Unifier, not Divider: Now we’re going to see the real Boris Johnson, says PETER OBORNE 

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One of Boris Johnson’s heroes, Margaret Thatcher, famously declared ‘the Lady’s not for turning’ when she faced treacherous Tories plotting with the Labour Opposition to soften her economic policies.

But faced with his own rebellion over his hardline Brexit strategy, Johnson seems well and truly for turning. Mrs T would have called him ‘frit’. 

And she’d have been right. His catalogue of U-turns is partly down to his character and partly because he has got himself into a corner.

Boris Johnson never approaches crossroads cautiously like normal drivers. The Prime Minister, don’t forget, pledged hand on heart: ‘We will come out on October 31, no ifs and no buts.’ The PM is pictured at the Convention of the North in Rotherham

Boris Johnson never approaches crossroads cautiously like normal drivers. The Prime Minister, don’t forget, pledged hand on heart: ‘We will come out on October 31, no ifs and no buts.’ The PM is pictured at the Convention of the North in Rotherham

Most egregious is the way he brutally dumped 21 Tory MPs from the party for voting with Labour to stop him taking the UK out of the EU without a deal, then wavering when he realised the extent of the damage caused.

Within days, he had instructed Chief Whip Mark Spencer to write to the 21, advising them of the appeals process for restoration of the whip.

Privately, too, olive branches were offered to them as a clearly regretful Johnson wanted to heal the deep split within his party over Brexit.

At heart, Johnson is a crowd-pleaser, a man who revels in the support of his friends and the adulation of colleagues. He is also a liberal-minded politician who respects the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament. By contrast, Cummings loves to be hated

At heart, Johnson is a crowd-pleaser, a man who revels in the support of his friends and the adulation of colleagues. He is also a liberal-minded politician who respects the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament. By contrast, Cummings loves to be hated

Meanwhile, he has had to jettison his plans for a No Deal Brexit as well as his wish for a snap General Election.

And the biggest climbdown of all may be about to come. This is his solemn ‘die in a ditch or else’ pledge that Britain leaves the EU on October 31.

After the political carnage of the past few days, it is dawning on ‘U-turn Boris’ that he may be unable to deliver — hence the smell of burning rubber and the screeching of brakes as he makes the most dramatic 180-degree turn of the lot.

Johnson’s strategy involves compromising British sovereignty over Northern Ireland and allowing the EU to impose its own rules and regulations. Jean Claude Junker is pictured above

Boris Johnson never approaches crossroads cautiously like normal drivers. The Prime Minister, don’t forget, pledged hand on heart: ‘We will come out on October 31, no ifs and no buts.’

One of the principal reasons why he finds himself in this dilemma is that he has been taking the advice of his controversial and iconoclastic chief strategist, Dominic Cummings.

As readers of my columns must know by now, I am no fan of this bully with his deeply flawed judgment.

Very quickly, Johnson must make up his mind whether he will continue to listen to this Downing Street puppetmaster and keep alienating people, or whether he should ditch the widely loathed Svengali and return to being jovial, unifier Boris.

Faced with his own rebellion over his hardline Brexit strategy, Johnson seems well and truly for turning. Mrs T would have called him ‘frit’

Faced with his own rebellion over his hardline Brexit strategy, Johnson seems well and truly for turning. Mrs T would have called him ‘frit’

Without doubt, if Britain is still in the EU on November 1, Johnson will be in an almost untenable position.

Parliament’s seizure of control of the Brexit process means that by October 19, in the absence of a deal, he must personally write a letter to Brussels’ negotiators asking for a delay to Article 50. Otherwise, he will be in breach of the law.

The drastic alternative is for him to make the ultimate sacrifice and resign as Prime Minister — the job he has striven for all his life.

It would go against every corpuscle in his body but he would have to watch Jeremy Corbyn try to form a government and wait until a General Election was called. 

Then, he would hope to win at the ballot box by portraying himself as a Brexit martyr and Corbyn as the man who defied the will of the people by sabotaging Brexit.

Whatever the case, as a result of a series of epic misjudgments, this weekend Johnson is confronted with a hideous set of choices.

Obviously, he would hate to hand back to the keys to No 10 just weeks after being given them. 

That would make him the shortest-lived British prime minister of all time, overtaking the 19th-century Tory George Canning, who died in office after 123 days.

It would be much simpler to get rid of Cummings.

Already there are signs that Johnson is standing up to him.

I have known Boris Johnson for many years. He is a man who loves agonising over tricky decisions — such as when he prepared two versions of his newspaper column before the EU referendum: one arguing in favour of Brexit, the other advocating that Britain should stay in.

One of Boris Johnson’s heroes, Margaret Thatcher, famously declared ‘the Lady’s not for turning’ when she faced treacherous Tories plotting with the Labour Opposition to soften her economic policies

One of Boris Johnson’s heroes, Margaret Thatcher, famously declared ‘the Lady’s not for turning’ when she faced treacherous Tories plotting with the Labour Opposition to soften her economic policies

Whether to ignore or dump Cummings is just the latest bit of mental torture.

At heart, Johnson is a crowd-pleaser, a man who revels in the support of his friends and the adulation of colleagues. 

He is also a liberal-minded politician who respects the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament. 

By contrast, Cummings loves to be hated. He will have relished every knocking headline and barb he has received over the past few weeks.

Until this week, his advice was in the ascendancy. Wage war on Parliament. Play fast and loose with rules over prorogation. 

Dissimulate to the Press. Ditch Tories opposed to a No Deal Brexit. Throw down the gauntlet by calling a General Election.

Cummings, once a bouncer at his uncle’s notorious Durham nightspot, Klute, and who has never been elected to anything in his life, felt that these were winning tactics.

However, his boss is coming to believe the opposite. Hence the handbrake turn.

Some observers believe the two men have adopted a classic good cop/bad cop strategy. I don’t buy that. Cummings’s cack-handed manoeuvres have made Johnson look weak and indecisive.

How deeply ironic that Johnson is being forced to look at the same escape route used by Theresa May but which led to her downfall. Which brings me to his biggest U-turn.

After the political carnage of the past few days, it is dawning on ‘U-turn Boris’ that he may be unable to deliver — hence the smell of burning rubber and the screeching of brakes as he makes the most dramatic 180-degree turn of the lot. Mr Johnson is pictured in Doncaster this week

After the political carnage of the past few days, it is dawning on ‘U-turn Boris’ that he may be unable to deliver — hence the smell of burning rubber and the screeching of brakes as he makes the most dramatic 180-degree turn of the lot. Mr Johnson is pictured in Doncaster this week

For weeks he has said that the Irish backstop, an insurance policy to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland but which also keeps the UK in the Customs Union and Single Market, must be dropped. 

Repeatedly, he has said: ‘The problem is fundamental. It needs to come out.’

Yet it now seems he is prepared to keep the backstop in some form, as his only hope of striking a deal with Brussels.

This could lead him into new and perilous territory. The Irish backstop being suggested would establish a so-called all-Ireland economy on trade of food and agriculture.

Johnson’s strategy involves compromising British sovereignty over Northern Ireland and allowing the EU to impose its own rules and regulations.

Cummings, once a bouncer at his uncle’s notorious Durham nightspot, Klute, and who has never been elected to anything in his life, felt that these were winning tactics. However, his boss is coming to believe the opposite

Cummings, once a bouncer at his uncle’s notorious Durham nightspot, Klute, and who has never been elected to anything in his life, felt that these were winning tactics. However, his boss is coming to believe the opposite

Of course, this would be seen by many as an erosion of the integrity of the UK — although so far the Democratic Unionist Party has made encouraging noises about it.

But Boris Johnson is in a desperate place.

This weekend, he faces three choices. He can resign as Prime Minister. He can grovellingly request an extension of Article 50 in just over five weeks’ time. 

Or he can strike a deal with Brussels which would look in many ways remarkably similar to Mrs May’s agreement, which he witheringly condemned as leaving Britain as a ‘vassal state’.

Each course of action would be a climbdown. I predict that an increasingly embattled and isolated Prime Minister will fall back on his crowd-pleasing instincts and fight to get some sort of deal.

No more gongs for tired Tories only 

The Order of the Companions of Honour is one of Britain’s highest awards. It is meant to go to people who have, to quote from the Royal Family website, ‘made a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine or government lasting over a long period of time’. 

This should not mean that the honour is restricted almost exclusively to Tory politicians. Most recent appointments, though, have been. 

At the last count, there were 15 former Conservative politicians among the 65 companions. 

Only one former Labour politician is included, Baroness (Valerie) Amos, who was honoured more for her diplomatic DC escort service than for her political career. 

This week saw the appointment of yet another Tory — former Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin. 

In an era when British politics is so toxically partisan, it is unacceptable to find such party bias in an order of chivalry meant for rewarding dedicated public DC escort service of all kinds. 

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Unifier, not Divider: Now we’re going to see the real Boris Johnson, says PETER OBORNE