Barely three months ago, swathes of loyal Conservative voters angrily threw their support behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the grand protest that was the European elections. Since then, much has changed in Tory land; thanks to its new Vote Leave leadership, the party has shunted away from Remain and moved markedly towards the Leave end of the Brexit spectrum.
As a result, the Brexit Party’s poll numbers have plummeted. Boris Johnson is now widely viewed as the right person to take us out of the EU in a way that Theresa May never was. The Conservative rebels are no longer the Brexiteer ERG crew. Now, the maverick outsiders are the Remainers, their adamant opposition to No Deal setting them at odds with the aggressively enforced government position.
As it stands, the Conservative Party is much more at risk of losing votes to the single-issue Liberal Democrats than Nigel Farage. Disaffected Remain-leaning Tory voters who do not identify with the nationalistic bravado being violently broadcasted by the Brexiteers in government are more likely than ever before to feel out of place in their own party, alienated by their own Prime Minister.
This is entirely understandable. Dominic Cummings has been reeling off every trick in the book in his concerted attempt to convince the world that the British government is, at long last, truly serious about Brexit.
He has been in Downing Street a mere few weeks—most of which time, Parliament has been in recess—and he has already seized a no-confidence vote from the Opposition’s armoury, threatened to hold an election to force through No Deal, and even promised to trash the government’s majority by booting disobedient MPs out of the party. It should be hardly surprising, then, that Remain-leaning Tories are somewhat reticent about giving this government a stonking mandate in any impending general election.
Because of the comparably soft touch of the last government, being a mildly Europhilic Conservative has been relatively easy for much of the last three years. The Gauke-ward squad supported Theresa May and voted for her deal three times while only the few fringe People’s Voters took a strong enough Remain position to divulge from the party line.
Now, though, moderate Remainers—of whom there are many in the Tory Party—are having their principles tested in the extreme. Are they really willing to die on the Brexit hill?
The bulk of the Conservative Remainers are not, in fact, Remainers, but opponents of No Deal. It is the new government’s embracing of No Deal bluster that they find troubling. Even as a lifelong Eurosceptic and unrelenting Leave supporter, I empathise profoundly with this dilemma. If it came to it, and it were my trembling hand hovering over the big red button, I would be inclined to revoke Article 50, rather than see us tumble out of Europe without a deal. Yet, I maintain my support for the government.
A non-negligible chunk of Boris backers are profoundly sceptical of No Deal, but have faith that all the electoral bombast and patriotic guff about pork pies is a mere negotiating ploy. This government is still working towards what both Tory Remainers and the Vote Leave crew agree is the optimal outcome: a deal. But for the scheme to work, the world has to believe that the mop-haired mayor and his demented blogging minion are just about bonkers enough to follow through on their threats.
A common trope throughout the ongoing crisis that is Brexit—constitutional, existential and otherwise—is that of a Leave-voting population and its representation by a pro-Remain Parliament. This is still the case; in fact, thanks to the various newly independent members, the House of Commons is arguably more strongly in favour of Remain than it has been at any point since that fateful election day in 2017.
Now, though, for added complexity, perched precariously on top of the Leave electorate and the Remain Parliament like a poorly assembled wedding cake is a Vote Leave government. Despite the sheer volume of its rhetorical gusto, the government is caught between a rock and a hard place; it cannot please the Leavers and Remainers at once, even though it is accountable to them both.
It is for that reason that Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings know better than anyone else that they must obtain a Brexit deal. The Prime Minister’s leadership campaign was founded on the notion of uniting the country, healing divisions and bringing us together once more. He has no intention of executing a divisive, regressive Farage Brexit.
As onerous as it may seem, that majority of Tories who would rather avoid both No Deal and Revoke must swallow their pride, turn a blind eye to Boris’s bellowing and Cummings’s evil stares and throw their support behind this government. We all want a deal, and Boris is the only person who can deliver it.