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  • So another extraordinary week in British politics, perhaps

  • the most extraordinary yet.

  • Robert, is this a plan?

  • Boris Johnson has hurtled at great speed

  • towards a confrontation with parliament,

  • and now perhaps a general election as well.

  • Is this actually part of the strategy,

  • or is this the unravelling of a premiership

  • in its first few days of being in charge?

  • The answer could be yes, I think.

  • Both.

  • There definitely was a plan, and the plan

  • was exactly as you're describing,

  • to bring the confrontation with parliament to a head.

  • The team Johnson recognised that parliament was going to vote

  • to stop them having a no-deal Brexit.

  • It was going to legislate.

  • The prorogation wasn't going to do the job.

  • They also were aware that the prorogation of parliament

  • might actually heighten the confrontation, which

  • suited them.

  • They could have a people versus parliament election.

  • You people are stopping Brexit, we're going to the country

  • because we trust you.

  • And that was a strategy.

  • And you can see the logic of it.

  • What's happened in the last few days

  • is the unravelling of that strategy

  • in a couple of different ways.

  • Firstly, he threatened to expel any of his MPs

  • that voted against him.

  • More of them did than he expected.

  • And sometimes they even provoked him.

  • Dominic Cummings, his chief strategist,

  • was incredibly dismissive and rude

  • to some of the key figures who voted against the government.

  • And you know, really eminent people.

  • Philip Hammond, former chancellor, Greg Clark,

  • Kenneth Clarke.

  • These are senior people in the Conservative party

  • and they have been expelled.

  • People who've been in the cabinet

  • a matter of weeks ago in very senior positions.

  • That's right.

  • And with the proximity of a general election,

  • taking the party whip away from them

  • is tantamount to expelling them and deselecting them.

  • And what you're saying to the country

  • is there is no room in the Conservative party for some

  • of the best-known figures and some

  • of the most mainstream figures.

  • And furthermore, since one of your arguments against Jeremy

  • Corbyn is that he is an extremist who expels and purges

  • his moderates, that line doesn't look so good, either.

  • The second reason it's beginning to become complicated,

  • is because Labour has tumbled to this strategy and is saying,

  • well, maybe we're not going to give you the election when you

  • want and on the terms you want.

  • So all of a sudden, Boris Johnson's strategy

  • is beginning to look very precarious.

  • It's not definitely unravelling yet,

  • because I think there's still a decent chance Labour will give

  • him the election.

  • But it's not guaranteed.

  • And what about this idea that this

  • might be the final coming to fruition of the schism

  • that's kind of been threatened in the Conservative party

  • under successive Tory prime ministers,

  • really, that Europe is the kind of rock on which the Tory

  • party finally founders?

  • Because you've now got dozens of Tory MPs potentially,

  • as you said, deselected to make room

  • for much more extremely anti-Europeans.

  • What happens to the rest of the Tory party

  • that's been told it's not welcome?

  • It's a really interesting question.

  • I mean, obviously, at one level, schism

  • is fractionally too strong because you're

  • talking about quite a small sliver

  • of the Conservative party.

  • The Conservative party's been moving ever rightwards

  • for quite a long time.

  • So there is a fair degree of unity

  • of purpose around the Brexit position

  • that they have among party members

  • and among the bulk of the parliamentary party, which

  • is not the same as saying among Conservative voters, of course.

  • No, indeed.

  • But the party, while it looks divided at this minute,

  • there is a degree of unity and a purpose there.

  • They are now the lead party.

  • They are possibly the Brexit party.

  • And so they've completed... and they're also changing

  • their electoral base, because a lot of the well-heeled

  • southern, more metropolitan, liberal-minded Conservatives

  • are looking at this and thinking, well,

  • hang on, this isn't us.

  • And they have this northern strategy of chasing votes

  • in working class areas in the north,

  • some of the smaller towns, people who have voted Labour

  • but are very patriotic, don't like Jeremy Corbyn,

  • and they think they can get those people.

  • But it's a hell of a gamble.

  • And what has opened up, as - I mean, you'll know this -

  • opened up right in the centre of politics now is a huge space

  • between Corbynism and Johnson, Brexitism.

  • There's a large gap for a party, if it's able to fill it.

  • But there's also a schism in the Johnson clan.

  • Yes, absolutely.

  • Boris's brother Jo, his younger brother,

  • who was a minister, just outside the cabinet

  • but with a right to attend cabinet,

  • has today announced that he is standing down from parliament,

  • standing down as a minister, citing the fact that he

  • has been unable to resolve the conflict between family loyalty

  • and national interest, which is not very coded

  • way of saying I can't put up with what

  • my brother's doing any longer.

  • And what about if we do have an imminent general election

  • earlier than is scheduled?

  • Do you think you'll actually see something very unusual, which

  • is a kind of pro-Brexit pact on one side

  • and a kind of mirror image pro-Remain

  • or stop no-deal alliance on the other?

  • Because the numbers are so tight and there's

  • a danger of just ending up with another hung parliament which

  • of course wouldn't resolve Brexit at all

  • unless it's really clear what the two options are.

  • Yeah.

  • I mean, I think anybody who wants

  • to call the general election should immediately

  • be dismissed because I certainly don't

  • know how it will play out.

  • You can construct different theories about this,

  • but a hung parliament is certainly

  • one of the more plausible options.

  • As to the pact, well, I don't know.

  • I think the Conservative party leadership would very much

  • like not to have a pact with the Brexit party, Nigel Farage.

  • They would prefer just to shove them aside and squeeze

  • their vote.

  • And I think if they think they can do that, that

  • will be their preferred option.

  • If the election is held before the Brexit date,

  • the Brexit party has a major question

  • to face, which is do we want to risk Brexit by stopping

  • the Conservatives from winning.

  • On the Remain side, more difficult, because I think

  • the diverse parties of Remain are finding it very difficult

  • to work together.

  • Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader,

  • has said she couldn't put Jeremy Corbyn into power.

  • So that's tricky.

  • The Labour party is not a party which is minded to stand aside

  • for other parties anywhere.

  • The Scottish Nationalists and SNP,

  • because they are independence movement parties,

  • are problematic for the other two parties.

  • So, I can see a few side deals on the Remain side, perhaps

  • between the Greens and the Lib Dems, maybe

  • Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems, I can see that happening.

  • But on a full-on...

  • The Greens are quite relaxed about Jeremy Corbyn

  • because they're more leftwing anyway.

  • Exactly right.

  • So I can see smaller pacts, but I can't see a grand Remain

  • alliance.

  • What is, however, possible is the voters can figure this out

  • for themselves.

  • And they can look at where things lie,

  • and say the best Remain choice here is Labour or Lib Dems

  • or whoever.

  • The one other wrinkle in this is that Labour's own position

  • on Brexit is complex in that it is offering a referendum while

  • saying it will also seek a better Brexit deal.