Wanted: A true “captain” for a national conservative party. Present occupant rudderless and risks foundering a once great force for political, social, and economic good. Righting the direction of the party will be an arduous undertaking, with an indifferent crew. But the appreciation and everlasting respect of rank-and-file members assured.
Such is not an employment advertisement for America’s Republican Party. Despite what the press would have people believe, Joe Biden is not yet president-elect — not until the Electoral College has spoken — nor has Donald Trump quitted the White House in disgrace. The president continues to govern and, much to the relief of his nationwide constituency, maintains the fight for conservative ideals as best he can. The integrity of the electoral process is only the tip of the iceberg, as it were. Securing the border, ending the interventionist agenda of the globalized élite — whether under the specious cover of spreading democracy or ending climate change — and eviscerating a bloated Washington establishment: all remain works in progress for the Trump administration.
No. The above advertisement is posted in lieu of principled leadership within Britain’s Conservative Party.
Boris Johnson swept to reelection last December on the strength of his Brexit credentials. A year later, the fate of the UK’s independence from the European Union remains as tenuous as ever. The prospect of a Biden presidency further imperils the Brexit cause.
Joe Biden is a Brexit foe, voicing his opposition in 2016 to the EU referendum, where a majority of Britons voted to take back their sovereignty. He made his opposition vocal during the 2020 presidential race, vowing to support the EU over any “supposed” special relationship with Britain. Brussels bureaucrats have been further emboldened by the prospect that he will unseat Brexit’s strongest international ally, President Trump, from office.
In the face of all this, Britain’s premier shrinks at the sight of the merest opposition. He was among the first to congratulate, precipitously, Biden’s electoral win. He was not as aligned to the Trump administration as many hoped. On questions such as limiting the reach of government, controlling migration, and standing up to special interests, Boris Johnson is tepid at best. Now, with progressives in the ascendant in Washington, Johnson can sail under his own colors under cover of the necessity of appeasing the new realities in America.
Full Brexit may be the first casualty of a putative President Biden. (Its December 31 deadline predates by some three weeks any presidential inaugural.) Democrat allies have signaled that European interests will take priority over Britain, that is to be relegated to the “back of the queue” — unless. Unless the UK is prepared to make concessions on questions vital to British independence itself: conceding fishery quotas; conceding questions of regulatory alignment, taxation, and subsidies — the infamous “level playing field” — and giving way on the European Court of Justice as the arbiter of last resort.
No. 10 reflects this shifting mood. A fortnight ago, Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings and his Brexit coterie packed it in — accordingly after losing control for the government’s agenda to the PM’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds.
Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke when his wife stepped in as unelected president. What’s the Prime Minister’s excuse? Earlier I wrote of “speculations that Mr. Johnson accommodates his girlfriend’s progressive proclivities to appease her.” But according to the Daily Mail, Johnson’s obsequity is more ominous:
According to No. 10 insiders, after months of drift, Boris’s senior aides gave him a blueprint for the reorganization of his No. 10 operation. At dinner over Chequers [four] weeks ago, it was signed off. But once the guests had departed, Ms. Symonds tore it apart. Boris meekly binned the plan.
Just who governs Britain?
Benjamin Disraeli asked the same of his party during the 1840s debate on repealing the Corn Laws. Ireland was suffering through repeated potato crop failures and subsequent famines. Protection kept the price of “wheat” high; repeal would lower its costs and make it more affordable for the British poor, particularly the blighted Irish.
Yet such repeal would be punitive to the agricultural interests that placed Sir Robert Peel in Downing Street. For Disraeli, Sir Robert was deserting his party and its principles and adopting the pernicious program of the opposition Whigs.
The case against Boris Johnson is more damning. The socio-economic questions of protection and the Corn Laws, involving consumer choice and free trade — especially in relation to Toryism’s traditional support of the landed interest — requires close scrutiny. This prime minister has no room for prevarication.
Johnson and the Conservative Party won an 80-seat majority last December for its defiance against the Labour Party and its embrace of the EU, bureaucratism, and interest groups with an agenda against Britain’s heritage — be it statesmen’s statues, equality before the law, or personal liberty.
Now, Johnson too embraces this elitist agenda, to the consternation and alarm of true blue Conservatives, “Middle” and northern England — the “red wall” — who dared to put their faith in Tories. What a slap in the face to both constituencies.
Disraeli, assessing a similar betrayal by his Government frontbench, was unforgiving. “Whether a Tory ministry exists or not I do not pretend to decide,” he declared. “But I am bound to believe that the Tory majority still remains.”
Brexiteers believe a significant majority for UK independence remain in the House of Commons, particularly on the Conservative backbenches and the country at large. Thus Disraeli’s declaration to his leaders should be echoed by patriotic Tories today: “Therefore I do not think that it is the majority that should cross the House, but only the ministry.” For Conservative MPs with the courage of their convictions, a party and a nation stand waiting.
Stephen MacLean, a freelancer based in Nova Scotia, writes the Brexit Diary for the New York Sun.