When answers are in short supply, sometimes the best we can do is try to ask the right questions. Some of those dive into legal and constitutional arcana, as experts try to work out how Boris Johnson can climb out of the hole he has spent this last week digging ever deeper for himself. Now that the opposition parties have refused to accede to his cunning plan for an October election, and will next week see passed into law their demand that he seek an extension of Britain’s EU membership, he’s left with a series of unpalatable alternatives – from breaking the law to resignation to tabling a motion of no confidence in himself.
Still, even if it’s later rather than sooner, polling day is coming. So here goes with the three questions that will decide the next election and, with it, the fate of Brexit.
First, when? Given the procedural chicanery and willingness to trash established convention we’ve witnessed these last few days, nothing is certain, despite today’s move to block a poll before 1 November. What’s at stake here is the context in which the election will take place. Johnson’s preference has always been to face the voters before the exit deadline, lest he be cast as having failed in his “do or die” mission to leave by 31 October. This is the prize the opposition has agreed to deny him, forcing him, they hope, to confront the electorate in November as a failure, guilty of either treachery or incompetence. Their hope is that Johnson’s inability to take Britain out of the EU will pump new air into the Brexit party balloon, thereby splitting the leave vote that Johnson had bet everything on uniting around himself.