September 4, 2019

UK in Turmoil

British lawmakers defeated Boris Johnson in parliament on Tuesday in a bid to prevent him taking Britain out of the EU without a divorce agreement, prompting the prime minister to announce that he would immediately push for a snap election.” Reuters

Earlier on Tuesday, “British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his working majority in parliament… when one of his Conservative lawmakers defected to the pro-European Union Liberal Democrats.” Reuters

These developments followed last week’s decision by Johnson to suspend Parliament from mid-September to mid-October, just before the current Brexit deadline of October 31. Reuters

Fun fact: Britain has no formal written constitution. University College London

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of Johnson and worries that Britain is running out of palatable options.

“In an instant, the conflict hollowed out the world’s oldest and most successful political party. Former insiders were banished, and pro-Brexit lawmakers — once on the fringes, and now at the heart of Mr. Johnson’s government — tightened their grip on the party. What remains, moderates fear, is a narrow, more homogeneous party that sacrifices its long-term electoral prospects in pursuit of a hard split from Europe.”
Benjamin Mueller, New York Times

“The unprecedented move to sack 21 Conservatives, many of them long-serving members, was a stark sign of just how high the stakes have been ratcheted up… In carrying out the cull, Johnson blew apart his majority, presumably with the idea of replacing those members in a general election with others who will toe that line. By calling for a snap election, he could in fact be aiming to increase his majority and strengthen his hand on Brexit all at the same time. That said, his predecessor Theresa May tried the same tactic in 2017 -- and it spectacularly blew up in her face.”
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN

“Even now that the technical complexities and economic hazards of Brexit are indisputable, the prime minister pretends that obstacles are trifling or illusory. He claims that leaving the EU without a deal would not be a calamity, but also that the threat of calamity is necessary to persuade the EU to grant a deal. He says that MPs’ demands for an article 50 extension make it harder to negotiate in Brussels because continental leaders will compromise only when they see that the UK is beyond reason. In short: there is no cliff, and even if there was one, the way to avoid it is by driving towards the edge at full speed with no brakes.”
Rafael Behr, The Guardian

“While, from the perspective of this non-British observer, Brexit seems like a very bad idea, the arguments of many Remainers and People’s Vote proponents also often seem to boil down to: The voters did something dumb, so it shouldn’t count… But Johnson’s case is not all that strong either. The referendum asked voters only, ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ It didn’t ask on what terms that departure would take place. That was left up to the country’s elected leaders to figure out…

The debate comes down to what, fundamentally, you think modern ‘democracy’ is: a system in which the people set policies, or one in which the people select leaders they trust to set policies. Unfortunately, in this case, the debate is muddled by the fact that the people have done both and contradicted themselves.”
Joshua Keating, Slate

“The result [of another election] could see the winner installed in Downing Street for a full five-year term… Yet for the past three years, hardly any attention has been paid to the very different visions the Conservatives and Labour, the main opposition, have for Britain. The parties are much further apart than they were even in the aftermath of the financial crisis… how much discussion can there be about Britain’s future options during a six-week election campaign in the shadow of a ticking clock? And if radical reforms do follow, will the British public really feel that they have agreed to them when they received so little debate beforehand?”
Helen Lewis, The Atlantic

From the Right

The right is generally supportive of Johnson and believes a general election is likely.

The right is generally supportive of Johnson and believes a general election is likely.

“There is nothing brave in what the ‘Tory rebels’ are doing… In fact, intentionally blocking Brexit strikes me as the least brave thing you can do in British politics right now. It’s risk aversion, cowardice, stick-in-the-mud short-sightedness. We all know that their agitation against no deal is really a continuation of their agitation against Brexit itself. All these so-called Tory rebels are Europhiles. It isn’t ‘crashing out’ of the EU that horrifies them – it’s the prospect of leaving the EU in any fashion whatsoever…

“Theirs is not a rebellion against power or dictatorship or even Boris himself – it’s a rebellion against us, the people, or at least the millions and millions of us who voted Leave.”
Brendan O’Neill, The Spectator

“A majority of Parliament… want to rule out a no-deal Brexit option, one [Johnson] is using as a threat to force the EU to give up the Northern Irish border backstop. They want to force him to accept any Article 50 extension offered by the EU that would assist in avoiding a no-deal exit… And yet, even though they clearly don’t trust [Johnson’s] strategy, a majority of Parliament is unwilling to vote its lack of confidence in this government and trigger a new election… These are constitutionally irreconcilable.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

“Britain’s Parliament is elected in single-member districts where a candidate need not get a majority to prevail. This ‘first-past-the-post’ system means that Tories could easily win a majority of seats with only 35 percent of the national vote. Given that more than 400 of the United Kingdom’s 650 constituencies voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, Johnson has the upper hand. Opposition parties could agree to an electoral pact to oppose Conservatives, but that’s easier said than done…

“[The Liberal Democrats and Greens] have been pushing Corbyn to unambiguously support a second referendum that could cancel Brexit entirely. Corbyn is loath to embrace that option, however, as his party’s voters are divided on Brexit, with many working-class supporters in favor of it. He is also a lifelong euroskeptic and does not personally back staying in the E.U. as is. Without a pact, Johnson would surely triumph unless large numbers of Brexit backers plunked down for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. So far polls show Brexit-backing voters flowing toward the Tories and away from Farage.”
Henry Olson, Washington Post

Regarding Johnson’s attempt to suspend parliament, “Whatever else the prorogation of Parliament may be, it is not (as some excitable sorts are claiming, and other excitable sorts are reporting) a ‘coup.’ Rather, it is the use of a commonplace (and legal) device but at a time when British politics are anything other than business as usual. Whether or not it is a wise move is a different question. My own guess is that it is a possibly smart, certainly risky tactical move, but strategically a mistake: If it succeeds, it will allow Remainers to reinforce their claim that Brexit was brought about by trickery, a claim that may well have staying power if the U.K. moves towards the sort of ‘no deal’ Brexit that is looking increasingly likely, a no deal that will led to a great deal of difficulty both economically and politically.”
Andrew Stuttaford, National Review

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