Persistent Brexit blues

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

With the fast approach of October 3, being the deadline for the United Kingdom to exit the European Union with or without an agreement, Britain’s redoubtableEstablishment, once reputed to be the world’s most stable, is now enveloped by confusion and uncertainty.

The bone of contention is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s determination to go ahead with the planned exit even if an agreement is not reached with the EU on new terms of their relationship. This has caused fears in business and opposition circles that a “crashing out” of the EU will cause much pain and even economic recession for the country.

The opposition to the Brexit build their case on the premise that not all the details in life after Brexit for the UK have been marshalled out satisfactorily. A report prepared by civil servants, which parliament forced the government to reveal two days ago, showed indeed that there are many things to worry about. These include truck delays of up to two days at the Channel tunnel and at British ports, as well as possible shortage of fresh food and medical supplies.

Even though Prime Minister Johnson says he is intent on reaching a deal with EU before October 31, all signs are that he is instead intent on a no-deal Brexit. Just before parliament was prorogued, it passed a law outlawing a no-deal Brexit, which the Queen has assented to.  There are charges that Mr. Johnson could ignore this law, which will be an amazing development for Britain. Efforts are also on in the judiciary to quash the proroguing of parliament and restore its sittings. The matter will be heard by the British supreme court next week.

Since 2016 when British voters narrowly approved an exit from the EU, Britain has been roiled by political crises. The crisis has already cost two prime ministers, David Cameron and Theresa May, and from all indications Boris Johnson may not fare better. His most tangible effort to secure a deal with the EU where Theresa May failed to is to get the latter to change the Irish backstop, which guarantees a free border between Northern Ireland and Irish Republic even after Britain leaves the EU. It is very unlikely that EU will agree to this change. Nor has Johnson offered a concrete alternative to the backstop despite a visit he paid to Ireland last week where he met with its prime minister, Leo Varadkar.

The proroguing of Parliament, which has been done before by British PMs in order to prepare their legislative agenda for the next session, however threw in an enormous amount of suspicion to the mix. It is seen as an attempt by Johnson to remove the retraining hand of parliament until a no-deal Brexit becomes a fait accompli. EU leaders are expected to meet in mid-October and unless they grant another delay to Brexit, then a crashing out becomes inevitable. Johnson has said, notoriously, that he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than ask EU leaders for another stay. However, speculations are that he could comply with parliament’s order to seek a delay in the absence of a deal, then get an EU member country to veto the request, since it requires a unanimity to take a decision at the EU summit!

The way things are going, however the Brexit dilemma is resolved in the long term, it has already done immense damage to the UK’s reputation as the standard bearer of democracy. That is, if Brexit does not also send the UK into an economic and social spiral, coupled with street protests, before it finds it feet outside the EU. Johnson’s demand for a general election needs approval from two-thirds of MPs and he cannot get it without the support of opposition parties. They have already said they will not support it until a no-deal Brexit is out of the way. As things stand therefore, no one knows the way out of this historic impasse in the world’s oldest democracy.


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