BREXIT IN THE BOGS
BRITAIN PLANS FOR A HARD BREXIT
Saro Thiruppathy writes about PM Boris Johnson’s resolve to see a ‘no deal’ Brexit through to its end
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson replaced Theresa May as Prime Minister of the UK on 23 July having garnered 92,153 votes from members of the Conservative Party compared to Jeremy Hunt who received only 46,656.
But what concerns many Britons is that he has been elected to the lofty post of premier by only 0.13 percent of the British electorate. Anyway, he proved wrong this self-deprecating prediction: “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars or my being reincarnated as an olive.”
The 55-year-old politician was born in the United States to British parents and until a few years ago, was a citizen of the US as well. He has worn many hats, having been an unreliable journalist who ran afoul of his editor at the Times of London and was sacked when he fabricated a quote.
This maverick politician served as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip from 2015 until his appointment as prime minister in July – he’d previously been the MP for Henley and was later the Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016.
Johnson was the foreign secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet from 2016 to 2018 but resigned in protest over the former premier’s handling of Brexit and the Chequers agreement. The latter is a government white paper, which outlines the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU.
Though he is seen as a controversial figure in the arenas of journalism and politics, some find him quite humorous – and in fact, a few traditional Tory voters seem to like him. But Johnson’s detractors consider him an elitist who supports cronyism – they label him as being dishonest, lazy and incompetent, as well as a bigot.
Even though he was fairly successful as London’s mayor especially during the 2012 Summer Olympics, many of Johnson’s peers and political analysts have expressed serious doubts about his capacity to lead the country through the turbulence that is Brexit.
CHALLENGES Johnson has plenty on his plate such as a ‘no deal’ Brexit on 31 October; Iran; 5G; his MPs who are facing sexual harassment charges; and managing the UK’s relations with the US. Running parallel to the complications with Brexit is the escalating crisis with Iran and safe passage for British ships through the Strait of Hormuz.
Johnson will need to work with the EU, which plans to set up a naval mission to escort ships through troubled waters, as well as the US in managing this problem. Unlike the United States, Britain continues to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, which it helped broker along with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and EU.
Johnson has his work cut out for him as the UK prepares to leave the EU at the end of October. Most Tory MPs favour a ‘no deal’ Brexit (i.e. no trade deal); and if he does try to appease EU sentiments, there’s a possibility that the PM could face dissent from within Tory ranks.
HARD BREXIT In his maiden speech as prime minister, Johnson told the House of Commons that “no country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect could agree to a treaty, which signed away our economic independence and self-government as this backstop does.”
The new premier informed MPs that he is committed to getting rid of the Irish backstop since it was “divisive” and “anti-democratic.” He added: “It poses that appalling choice to the British government and the British people – to the United Kingdom – of losing control of our trade, losing control of our regulations or else surrendering the government of the United Kingdom.”
Of course, the EU wasn’t amused and Michel Barnier, its chief Brexit negotiator, was critical of Johnson’s “combative” speech and rejected the latter’s demand to renegotiate the backstop in the withdrawal agreement that May had worked out with the European Union. The backstop lies at the heart of the problem for British lawmakers and is a key reason why the withdrawal agreement failed three times in parliament.
Barnier said that the EU is willing to “work constructively” within its own mandate. But binning the backstop, which was included at the insistence of the Irish government, was not acceptable.
THE BACKSTOP The withdrawal agreement provides for a 21 month transition period in the event that Brexit transpires before a future relationship has been reached. The Irish government wanted the backstop to be implemented during this period to ensure a seamless flow of goods and services between Northern Ireland and theIrish Republic.
It doesn’t want the reestablishment of a hard border between the north and south similar to what existed for decades during ‘The Troubles.’
But the House of Commons objected to the backstop because Northern Ireland would then continue to be part of the EU customs union and single market, and MPs felt that this would undermine the UK’s sovereignty. They have also objected to Britain remaining in the customs union and single market in the proposed transition period.
So if Brexit does take place in October without a deal that lays out the future relationship between the parties, Britain will trade under the laws of the WTO. If the UK goes into a general election thereafter, Johnson may be the third prime minister to be sent home as a result of this contentious process.
The clouds are gathering at speed over Great Britain.