THE most prevalent view about Boris Johnson’s threats of a No Deal Brexit is that it’s all a bluff. Some commentators think it’s positioning for a General Election or to pass blame for Brexit failing to MPs, and some even think it is a real attempt to get changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

During her meeting with the Prime Minister on Monday though, Nicola Sturgeon spotted that No Deal is not a bluff, but Johnson’s real aim.

I think she’s right.

The First Minister said that it became clear to her during the meeting that the Johnson “has set the UK on an almost inevitable path to a No-Deal Brexit”. The bluff then, is the entirely fake attempt to renegotiate with the EU27. What’s real is that, unchecked, Johnson will take the UK over the cliff.

Johnson has said he will not even discuss Brexit with EU27 leaders unless they agree in advance to abandoning the Backstop. He has therefore set impossible conditions even on discussions, let alone negotiations. But then he knew EU27 weren’t going to renegotiate anyway, and certainly wouldn’t agree to get rid of the backstop. So Johnson can take as hard, swaggering and table-thumping a line as possible knowing it makes no difference to the outcome.

But why?

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Firstly, the Tories see Farage and the Brexit party as the biggest threat to the Tories, and they think the Brexit Party loses its raison d’être if the Tories take the UK out of the EU with No Deal. Why, they think, would Brexiters vote for the Brexit Party if Johnson’s Tories had already given us the hardest Brexit possible?

A comparatively smooth Brexit with the stand-still transition period in the Withdrawal Agreement would bring cries of betrayal from the Faragists in the Brexit Party and the ERG. Brexiters can’t cry betrayal at the hardest Brexit possible though.

I think the central reason Johnson wants No Deal though is that he sees crisis as a positive thing. He wants and needs crisis. He subscribes to the “Great Man” theory of history – that history is defined by the actions of great heroes – and, with a remarkable lack of self-understanding, sees himself as one of those great men.

Boring stability is pointless for him. A Great Man needs adversity, struggle, enemies to blame and rail against. You can’t invoke the Dunkirk Spirit that makes his supporters misty-eyed over a boring domestic policy programme. Crisis is good. Chaos is an opportunity for leadership, speeches, and populism.

Let’s face it, that’s all Johnson and his cabinet have. They know they’ve got nothing but nationalistic fervour and wartime-style oratory going for them. They know the tame press and broadcasters will help. It’s all they’ve got, and they need the conditions of a crisis to make it work, and to provide political cover for populist policies that would never be acceptable in normal times.

The National:

A significant part of the UK population has already been conned into believing that the harmful, pig-headed, irresponsible stupidity of No Deal would be a patriotic act. It’s been successfully sold as a chance for Brits already high on nationalistic fervour to stick it to the foreigners and remoaners (who have now been carefully reclassified as people who don’t believe in Britain). With the Brexit Party neutralised, and the weakest official opposition ever in Westminster, it might work.

Johnson and his team also think they can do it. He reportedly believes that the only thing the Westminster Parliament could do to stop No Deal would be to make a law requiring him to revoke Article 50.

It’s entirely possible that he would simply ignore motions, and refuse to act on anything other than a law. Even if the Commons could force Johnson to make a formal request for an extension to Article 50, Johnson and his ministers could still call and meet their counterparts in EU capitals and do everything they could to get EU27 to refuse the request. On past performance, is there really any level of insult they wouldn’t be willing to stoop to.

Johnson also reportedly believes that MPs would shrink at making law to force a revocation. Despite a majority of MPs claiming to be vehemently against No Deal, this changes dramatically when the talk is of revocation instead. MPs are deeply frightened of revoking, as the appalling lack of support for Johanna Cherry’s motion for revocation in the event of No deal showed.

Finally, Johnson and his cabinet simply don’t care about the consequences for the UK and its population. This is just about politics and power. Collateral damage to people’s lives and wellbeing is entirely, casually, and without the slightest moral qualm, acceptable to them. Once that’s accepted – that morality is not only irrelevant, but is a flaw of the weak and of losers – why shouldn’t the self-proclaimed Great Man go big? He’s told the big lies and ran the big con, so why not commit the big act.

In his excellent book, The Lure of Greatness, Anthony Barnett showed how this lure is strong to the amoral, the vain, the narcissistic, the arrogant and the venal. It’s dangerous as hell for everyone else though, and everyone else is, unfortunately, us.

Steve Bullock is an ex-negotiator for the UK in the EU and has worked in the European Commission and as an advisor to Alyn Smith MEP. He tweets on Brexit as @guitarmoog