Military strategists from the ancient Chinese war leader Sun Tzu to the French general Napoleon Bonaparte have trumpeted the element of surprise in any conflict.
In battle, you must try to confuse, disrupt, demoralise your enemy. And that is exactly what Boris Johnson was trying to do on Wednesday with his explosive decision to ask the Queen to prorogue parliament.
Under the cover of a Queen’s Speech slated for 14 October, the prime minister tried to spin that the suspension of parliament for nearly five weeks from the second week of September until October has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with getting on with a new domestic agenda for his new government.
“We’ve got to move forward now with a new legislative programme,” Mr Johnson said as he described the suggestions that he was trying to deny MPs the time to debate and vote on Brexit as “completely untrue”.
“If you look at what we’re doing, we’re bringing forward a new legislative programme on crime, on hospitals, making sure we have the education funding that we need and there will ample time, on both sides of that crucial October the 17th Summit, ample time in parliament for MPs to debate the EU, to debate Brexit and all the other issues. Ample time.”
Number 10 was quick to stress that this Queen’s Speech was long overdue (you have to go back nearly 400 years to find a parliamentary session of this length) and parliament was expected to be in recess from 12 September until 7 October anyhow so MPs could attend annual party conferences. By that logic, a few more non-sitting days was not a big deal.
But there’s no doubt this manoeuvre is about far more than Mr Johnson’s domestic agenda. Downing Street is trying to box MPs in by reducing the parliamentary time they have to thwart Mr Johnson’s no-deal plan.
MPs had been planning to vote to cancel that recess when they returned to Westminster next week in order to ensure they had another time to block a no-deal exit on 31 October.
“Downing Street is bringing forward a confrontation,” said one anti no-deal Conservative MP.
“They have got hold of the idea that would have run with MPs to cancel party conference recess and keep parliament sitting through September and October.
“Most of my friends were up for that. Now we know we have got to stop them. All this has done its concentrated peoples’ minds.”
MPs from across political divides tell me they are united and focused around blocking a no-deal Brexit on 31 October rather than forcing an early vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson – installing Jeremy Corbyn into No 10 is simply too much for many Tories to bear.
The stop no deal effort is being led on the Conservative benches by former big beasts in the Cameron and May cabinets – Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond and David Gauke.
They are preparing to move next week to block Mr Johnson and have teamed up with other anti no-deal MPs across the House of Commons.
“Do we have the time? Yes. Do we have the numbers? Yes. Do we have the plan? Yes,” is how one of the organisers put it to me on Wednesday night.
It is set to be the mother of all battles in the mother of parliaments. And the battle might well not stop there. Mr Johnson’s team have made the calculation that if their man is blocked by parliament he can put his Brexit plan to the public in a general election where he positions himself as the people’s prime minister delivering on the 2016 referendum vote.
These are the politics of division. Mr Johnson is pitting a pro-Remain parliament against those citizens who feel the result of the referendum was ignored. To win an election he will need to harness that base – and if that exacerbates the tensions between the leave and remain Brexit tribes, so b
Those tensions are ratcheting up rapidly. MPs tell me that their post bags are filling up with normally mild-mannered constituents outraged by Mr Johnson’s actions.
For many voters this is a man who was elected prime minister by just 0.13% of the population and who has no mandate.
A petition calling for Mr Johnson to reverse his decision to prorogue reached the million mark within hours of launch. But for others, he is the one to deliver Brexit and his task is to galvanise his Brexiteer base.
Because this prime minister has staked his premiership on leaving the EU – do or die – on 31 October.
That is his one and only objective and he will pursue whatever means at his disposal to deliver on that pledge.
He does want a deal, indeed he told me at the G7 summit in Biarritz that he believed there was a “reasonable chance” he could get one across the line.
Number 10 sources say the crunch moment to secure a revised version of Mrs May’s deal will come at the EU summit on 17 October.
If Mr Johnson gets an agreement, he can offer parliament his deal or no deal. If he fails, MPs have the opportunity to try to bring his government down in a confidence vote. Mr Johnson might refuse to resign in a bid to force through Brexit by 31 October: we’re then into a deep constitutional crisis.
An election will follow which No 10 is trying to frame as a “people versus parliament” poll. Another vote then to try to settle Brexit and a chance for all of you to tell MPs which side you’re really on.