A cross-party coalition of MPs succeeded on Tuesday night in the first stage of their plan to block Boris Johnson’s likely No Deal Brexit strategy, scheduled for 31st October…
It had all been going so well for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in his short time in office had already boosted Conservative party approval ratings with his upbeat, confident approach towards Brexit and positive rhetoric with European leaders recently over securing a Brexit deal. Things turned rapidly sour however last week with his announcement that parliament was to be effectively shut down till 14th October, as fellow MPs soon realised this would prevent any debate or opposition to a No Deal Brexit from taking place.
Accused of being a ‘dictator’ guilty of ‘undemocratic’ and ‘unconstitutional’ acts, Boris Johnson further riled his own party members by threatening to oust any Conservative MPs who would vote against the government in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s legislation to prevent a No Deal Brexit. However, a total of 21 Tories rebelled regardless, including one of the longest serving MPs, Ken Clarke, and former Chancellor Phillip Hammond, who are both now expelled from the party. Hammond for his part accused the government of ‘rank hypocrisy’ and warned fellow Conservatives of a ‘fight of a lifetime’ if he was prevented from standing at the next general election as a Tory candidate.
The problem for Mr Johnson now is fundamentally one of trust. The decisions he took over proroguing parliament and then expelling Conservatives who didn’t toe the line over his No Deal plans have been deemed as reckless and dictatorial as he was effectively forcing MPs into submission. His recent words of wanting to negotiate a Brexit deal have become much less believable, as colleagues still wait to see any evidence of proposals regarding the Irish backstop, which Brussels demands he produce, before any new withdrawal agreement can be negotiated. It has also now been revealed in the Scottish courts, where a legal challenge to stop parliament being shut down is being heard, that Boris Johnson secretly agreed back in mid-August to prorogue parliament – even before his meetings with Macron and Merkel – where he argued that ‘the whole September sessions is a rigmarole’. This has provoked further anger from MPs, as they feel the PM has been leading them up the garden path, pretending that he has been working hard to achieve a deal with the EU, when in fact he hasn’t. Labour’s Ian Murray summed up the general antipathy towards him when he said ‘Boris Johnson treats parliamentary democracy with contempt’.
And so the saga of Brexit looks set to continue for even longer. So far, neither Theresa May’s measured, moderate approach to negotiations nor Johnson’s ‘bull in a china shop’ strategy have worked, as it seems the opposition at Westminster to Brexit in general is too great. So much of the blame for failed discussions was placed on Theresa May herself, as her Brexiteer colleagues sought to replace her with someone who could get Brexit done quickly, but, as one should have expected, the obstacles which prevented May from securing a deal in parliament are the same now as they were then. Westminster is dominated by Remain politicians, or at least those who are adamant that some sort of deal has to be negotiated with the EU in order to prevent the country from crashing out. The leaking of the ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ report several weeks ago highlighted just how destructive a No Deal Brexit could be, with delays at ports, food and medicine shortages and mass protests. This is something which many are keen to avoid at all cost. And yet, with every politician taking a slightly stance towards Brexit, divisions are almost impossible to overcome. Staunch remainers are arguing for a second referendum on Brexit and will oppose leaving the EU at any cost; then there are those who support Brexit but only with a deal, followed by the hard-line Brexiteers who are currently running the show, but who it seems will be equally unsuccessful at pursuing their goal of leaving on 31st October, come what may.
In addition, each party naturally has its own political goals, aside from their stance on Brexit. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to fulfill his own ambition of getting the keys to No.10 and installing a socialist government. The Scottish National Party, for its part, is simply delighted to observe the current chaos unfold as it has seen increased support for Scottish independence since Boris Johnson took office. The Liberal Democrats have become the ‘Remain’ party, whilst the Conservatives, accused by many of their own of now becoming the ‘Brexit’ party, are now so divided that there has been talk of the party splitting.
And so one has to ask – is Brexit achievable at all? And how? Neither May nor Johnson have so far been able to administer it, and one has to understand to a degree why Johnson has taken the bullish approach he has. Regardless of whatever deal is agreed in Brussels, it is still likely to be blocked by parliament. At this rate it is possible that we could well see a second referendum or ‘people’s vote’, as it may be the only way to get a definitive answer as to whether Brexit should happen at all.
If only then Prime Minister David Cameron could have foreseen the consequences when he called that EU referendum back in 2016…
Johanna Ross, journalist