A SLOW moving coup. There are no other words for what Boris Johnson and his inner circle are planning. And it’s happening while the British public is so punch-drunk from Brexit that we’re watching it unfold and doing nothing to stop it – like bystanders to a traffic accident.

The path to the complete undermining of what remains of British democracy is as follows: a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government is called, probably by Labour and probably when Parliament returns from the summer recess next month.

If a no-confidence vote passes there’s a 14-day period in which to form a new government. If that’s impossible – and it seems mathematically unlikely – Mr Johnson would remain as Prime Minister while the general election takes place. As the election date is up to the PM, Mr Johnson could schedule polling day after October 31 – the Brexit deadline.

Mr Johnson would hole up in Downing Street stripped of his phoney mandate, wielding power with no democratic authority, and push a no-deal Brexit through without parliament’s consent. Goodnight democracy.

This is unfolding without any attempt by Mr Johnson to renegotiate with the EU, all the while setting up Ireland as the patsy for when the plot derails.

Mr Johnson’s Rasputin – his chief aide Dominic Cummings – apparently believes the PM can refuse to resign if he loses a confidence vote. Downing Street has refused to rule out scheduling an election after October 31 so we’d crash out of the EU during political campaigning.

Asked if his plan was to hold a post-Halloween election, thereby ensuring Britain Brexits on October 31, Mr Johnson said: “We are going to leave the European Union on 31 October … that is what I think the parliamentarians of this country should get on and do.”

When pushed on whether he would ignore a no-confidence vote, he replied: “I think that MPs should get on and deliver what they have promised over and over and over again to the people of this country … and leave the EU on 31 October.”

There’s also the threat of Mr Johnson shutting down parliament to force through his extremist Brexit. He has refused to rule out proroguing parliament, insisting that all options must be left on the table to ensure the EU referendum result is respected and Britain leaves on October 31.

It seems that “all options” include direct assaults on democracy. When it comes to the Johnson cabal and democracy, there’s something about them which smacks of the anonymous US army major who spoke to the journalist Peter Arnett in the wake of the bombing of Ben Tre during the Vietnam war. The major infamously said: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

This would appear to be how Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings think of British democracy. Parliamentary sovereignty was supposed to be what leaving the EU was all about in the minds of the Brexiteers – rejecting anti-democratic Brussels. To preserve the democratic will of the British people, Mr Johnson and his crew are about to strangle democracy.

What can be done? On the matter of proroguing Parliament, legal steps are underway to stay Mr Johnson’s hand. A group of MPs, including Jo Swinson the Lib Dem leader, and the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, have lodged legal papers at the Court of Session in Edinburgh aimed at stopping Mr Johnson shutting down parliament.

If successful, the court action will bend Mr Johnson to the will of parliament and rule that proroguing the Commons is both unlawful and unconstitutional. The same team is working on the case which won a victory at the European Court over whether the UK could unilaterally cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50.

The Speaker of the Commons John Bercow has also said that parliament ending in order to force through a no-deal Brexit is “simply not going to happen”. So ranks are arrayed against Boris Johnson should he attempt the path to prorogation.

Success for Mr Johnson looks more likely if he pursues the strategy of flouting a no-confidence vote, hiding in Number 10, fixing an election after October 31, and pushing a no-deal Brexit through in the face of democratic conventions.

The Institute for Government has warned MPs they now have limited opportunities to stop a no-deal Brexit. The think tank said that if, what it termed, the “nuclear option” of a no-confidence vote was enacted it may not block no deal as Mr Johnson could sit out the 14-day period even if a new government seemed viable.

There are moves by cross-party MPs to rewrite the Common’s rulebook, including ripping up parliament’s standing orders to give members the power to stop the UK crashing out without a deal. A bill could compel Mr Johnson to seek an extension from the EU if there isn’t a deal in place by Halloween. MPs could also force parliament to sit through the autumn recess and give the Commons more time to rein in the Prime Minister. There’s even serious discussions ongoing about the power of the Queen to sack Mr Johnson if he refused to quit after losing a no-confidence vote.

The best defence against all this, though, comes from folk like you and me – the ordinary people, not the Queen or MPs. We’re the ones who are sovereign, no-one else. Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave whose co-owned farm took £235,000 in EU subsidies, threatened that Brexit will be delivered “by any means necessary”.

The people should respond to Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson using “any means necessary”. Any attempt to crush democracy, to flout parliament, should be met with mass civil protest and disobedience. The people could bring this country to a standstill, block every town and city in the land from Inverness to St Ives. It would have the power of a general strike.

Democracy is wounded now in Britain. The UK government seems intent on finishing it off. It is incumbent on every one of us ordinary voters and citizens to defend democracy. It’s defended us, it’s stood in the way of tyranny and abuse, and upheld the rule of law. Now we have to defend it using every legal means at our disposal should the time come.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year