Since July 24, 2019, when Mr. Boris Johnson became British Prime Minister following the resignation of Mrs. Theresa May over issues related to the intended British exit from European Union (Brexit), nothing seems to have changed except deepened divisions in British society and the widespread distrust of PM Johnson himself. After six weeks in office, he has only managed to prorogue Parliament, a suspension which began last Tuesday.
But he has also lost control of his slim majority as well as the control of Parliament, which is why he is under withering pressure to go to the polls to see if he could obtain a better mandate. Again, Parliament has also denied him an early election on his own terms. The way things are, he has to wait till he has obtained an extension of the Brexit deadline or he is able to reach an amicable deal with the EU before the October 31, 2019 deadline, a most unlikely prospect.
Mr. Johnson has found that his abrasive ‘resolve to force Brexit has not made things any easier for him than it was for his predecessor. Indeed, his prorogation of Parliament has united and stiffened opposition against him. Some sections of the Press in Europe use such words as ‘dictator’ to describe him. Many in Britain think it was a kind of coup.
But Mr. Johnson has given enough ammunition to critics. First, in spite of his promise to reach a new agreement with the EU, what comes through in the eyes of observers is essentially his efforts to mitigate the effects of a “no-deal” Brexit. He is not seen interacting for a deal with EU. Evidence is cited that on August 16, 2019, Johnson met with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. He revealed no new plans or confided in her about any new plans. On August 28, Johnson was the guest of French President Emmanuel Macron, but he broached no fresh initiatives or hinted anything different from the agreement concluded by Mrs. May and the EU which were voted down in the House of Commons on three times. Now those two EU leaders are the twin anchors of Europe whose support he would need to secure any new deal between the UK and the EU.
It was observed that hard negotiations by British officials and the EU commissioners were not happening. Indeed when last week the last cabinet minister quit Johnson’s cabinet, Works and Pensions Secretary, Ms. Amber Rudd, gave two reasons for her decision. First, she accused Johnson of what she called Johnson’s ‘political vandalism’ for the expulsion of 21 Tory MPs, including some truly pre-eminent personalities, including Kenneth Clark, the ‘father’ of the House, who has spent 49 years in Parliament, and Lord Nicholas Soames,71, the grandson of World War II leader and Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. Lord Nicholas has spent 37 years in the Commons. Ms. Rudd said she no longer felt that securing a deal with the EU was the government’s main objective since 80-90 per cent of government time was being spent preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit with “little evidence” that a new agreement was being sought. When she called for details, she received a “one page summary.”
But before Ms. Rudd’s resignation was that of Jo Johnson, the Prime Minister’s younger brother, who had also resigned from the cabinet and spoke about being torn between family and national interest. The Johnsons symbolize the depth of the conflicts and divisions in British society over Brexit and reminds many of the frustrations with Brexit.
As Kenneth Clarke observed in his speech in Parliament, the inability of Parliament to have any majority on any issue related to Brexit so far, except on the issue of leaving with no deal mirrors the British society. But Boris Johnson brought down the roof over his head with the stealth with which he sought and obtained the Queen’s authority to prorogue Parliament for five weeks.
It created a lack of trust which made it impossible for him to get any of his proposals through Parliament and by September 7, 2019 he had lost in all six votes in the House of Commons. He sought a snap election. He lost the vote. He was loathing to seek the extension of the Brexit deadline. He lost the vote on that, too. Last week, a Scottish Sessions Court said it would make an order declaring Johnson’s advice to the Queen (to prorogue parliament) unlawful.
If next week the Supreme Court concurs, not only would the suspended Parliament resume, Mr. Johnson might be pressured to also resign and Brexit would have claimed yet another British Prime Minister. The British need another referendum.