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Ponsonby: The phoniest phoney war is about to get phonier

Parliament has shut down for five weeks, but that doesn't mean the politics stops.

Boris Johnson must wait for his general election.
Boris Johnson must wait for his general election.

The scenes greeting the proroguing of parliament in the small hours of this morning will have been missed by a nation that prefers bed to early morning histrionics.

The palace of fun had prime ministerial frothing at the mouth at the failure of MPs to agree on a general election. Opposition MPs held pieces of paper saying ‘silenced’ in protest at the five-week suspension in hostilities. The atmosphere of recrimination is as thick as the portcullis wallpaper to be found around Pugin’s palace.

And yet I can’t help but conclude that what we have witnessed this past week is the phoniest of phoney wars which is about to get phonier still.

Why do I say this? Well for all of the thunder around a general election there is actually no disagreement. There will be an election, the only issue is around timing and the only fight between government and opposition concerns who controls the narrative at the point when it is called.

For the five weeks of the prorogation we will have all of the parties in full election mode as the party conference season ensures the apoplexy meter goes off the scale.

And just in case you have missed the point there will be additional photocalls, all of which will say we are in an election in all bar one detail, the date of the poll itself.

I may be tempting fate if not ridicule by saying we are in an end game of sorts. That will come with an election result that is conclusive and leaves no scope for further delay.

For all of the crossfire, MPs actually agree that an election is now the consensus strategy to break the log jam.

A new parliament with a leave majority and leave it will be and probably on a no-deal scenario and probably sooner rather than later but not by October 31.

Conversely, a majority for remain, either in the form of a majority Labour government or as is more likely, a cross-party coalition of remain supporting MPs and the delay will continue and a second referendum will become inevitable.

In the last day, some commentators have been speculating that a new deal might even emerge with a compromise on the Northern Irish backstop.

There is no compromise on the horizon, no new proposal actively under discussion and nothing that will placate the Conservative MPs who now drive Mr Johnson’s strategy.

They in any case are now past the destination sign that says ‘deal’ and are now in the land of a clean break with the EU in all of its forms.

In their eyes, there is no remaining legislative or regulatory Brussels tentacle that will encumber the ‘take back control’ mantra.

It now looks like no deal with the Conservatives or a second referendum with the opposition and the inevitability of further delay if not at an attempt at a complete reversal of the 2016 result.

For those who pine for it all to end I would advise never pressing the on button on your remote control in the next few months. You have been warned.


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