The United Kingdom has never been a good fit in the European Union. It has never been a continental power. Since the 1707 Acts of Union it has been a proudly independent state.
In 2016 then-Prime Minister David Cameron first called a public referendum on the divorce and then campaigned against it. When the vote was counted, Brexit was chosen by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent. Cameron resigned and was replaced by the hapless Theresa May.
May negotiated a godawful deal with the EU to accomplish Brexit. But her deal — which included the infamous “Irish backstop,” about which more in a minute — would have rendered the UK subject to EU laws and regulations while preventing it from having any say in their writing. During her prime ministership, the UK parliament rejected her deal three times.
In the course of rejecting May’s bad deal, Parliament has made itself a laughingstock. It has rejected May’s deal, rejected leaving the EU with no deal, and rejected every other decent alternative. What it seems to want most is to avoid any responsibility for Brexit, deal or no deal. Parliament lacks the courage to say what it undoubtedly thinks: that a new referendum should be held so that the outcome of Cameron’s referendum can be reversed.
Now it’s Boris Johnson’s turn to try to make good on Brexit.
Johnson is hated by the opposition Labour Party and the enormously liberal British media. He’s also derided across the EU’s 27 other nations. His mandate from the Conservative Party is to get Brexit done, and that’s what he has set out to do.
In just 24 days, on October 31, the United Kingdom is supposed to finally divorce itself from the European Union. Before Boris Johnson came to power, the day of divorce had been pushed back repeatedly (with the EU’s agreement), supposedly to allow for a better deal.
But the EU doesn’t want a deal. It wants either to force the UK to remain a member or to cripple it politically and economically if a no-deal Brexit finally happens.
In early September Johnson said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than ask the EU for another delay. He made that statement just days after Parliament passed the “Benn Act,” which requires him to do exactly that if a deal that Parliament approves of can’t be made by October 19.
Johnson has said he will obey the law, but he can — and should — take advantage of its loopholes to evade it.
Johnson tried to “prorogue” Parliament, that is, suspend it from meeting for most of October, but the UK’s supreme court — in a highly political decision — ruled on September 24 that he’d done so illegally. Parliament reconvened the following day without, of course, doing anything constructive on Brexit.
Last week, Johnson unveiled his latest and probably last offer to the EU for a negotiated Brexit. It focuses on the Irish backstop.
In 1998 the “Good Friday” accords were adopted, ending decades of IRA violence against British rule in Northern Ireland. One of their principal promises was that there would never be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Until Brexit came up that was not a problem. But because the Irish Republic belongs to the EU and Northern Ireland is part of the UK, Brexit posed a huge quandary.
Under Johnson’s new plan, Northern Ireland would — as part of the UK — exit the EU, but it would remain part of the EU’s customs area and subject to EU regulations on food and industrial goods as long as the Northern Ireland’s voters agree to doing so.
Johnson’s plan could result in tariffs being erected between Ireland and the rest of the UK and would certainly cause a lot of paperwork to companies that trade between the Irish Republic and the UK.
It is a respectable deal that could work, except for the fact that the EU is already rejecting it.
Unless a deal is made before the October 17 and 18 EU summit, Johnson will have to ask for another delay. But what else he does could determine the outcome in this seemingly endless political crisis.
One thing Johnson can do, and is rumored to be doing, is to campaign for one or more EU nations to vote against another delay. Because the EU’s nations function only by unanimous vote, a single vote against another delay would sink it and Johnson could accomplish what he’s repeatedly said he wants: a no-deal Brexit.
Among the nations that could veto another delay is Hungary. Its president, Victor Orbán — like Trump and Johnson — is not a globalist. He is regularly accused of destroying Hungary’s democracy and performing as a near-dictator. Within the EU, Orbán and his nation are facing political isolation.
In an unexpected slap in Orbán’s face, Hungary’s former justice minister, László Trócsányi, was rejected as a member of the European Commission, the EU’s governing body. (Forget the EU parliament, which functions as the Commission permits.) Orbán clearly has sufficient motivation to buck the desires of the EU’s major powers— France and Germany — and vote against another Brexit delay. Johnson can, and should, ask him to do just that.
If Orbán (and all the other EU leaders) votes approval of another delay, Johnson and the UK will be stuck in the EU for at least more several months.
Johnson has proposed that the UK hold another general election, which Parliament has so far refused to allow. But another Brexit delay will make an election inevitable. If it comes, Johnson could campaign on the single issue of Brexit and — if he wins, as seems likely — that would in effect be a reaffirmation of the vote on the 2016 referendum. It’s a risk Johnson would gladly take.
It’s becoming clear that the EU will try to stall Brexit until the UK holds a general election in the hope that Johnson will be defeated and that a new prime minister will be able to reverse May’s invocation of Article 50 of the EU’s main treaty, which is the provision enabling a member to exit the EU.
But for Johnson to lose would mean that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s leader, would become prime minister. Corbyn, a neo-communist, wants to do everything possible to wreck the UK’s economy and forfeit its ability to defend itself. He has, for example, said he wants to keep the UK’s ballistic missile submarines at sea without their missiles to save sailors’ jobs. He’d nationalize a number of industries. He’d divorce the UK from its NATO responsibilities and massively cut defense spending.
Corbyn also refuses to clarify where he stands on Brexit, other than he’s against anything Johnson agrees with. He has angered his party faithful who stand against Brexit in any form.
Corbyn could, possibly, defeat Johnson. But for that to happen would require that most UK voters lose their minds.
We should hope Johnson succeeds in finding an EU member that will vote against another Brexit delay. Regardless of his success in doing so, he won’t go wobbly. It’s Brexit or bust for Boris.