Foreign Affairs

Rule Britannia – Rule What Wave?

Desiree Michelle takes a look at the current state of the UK as it navigates the path towards Brexit, and also discusses whether Boris Johnson could become the Prime Minister.

Once a great powerhouse that prided itself on innovation, football and its unmistakable culture, the only ‘wave’ they are riding is the one going far south into abysmal oblivion.

‘Chaos’ comes to mind when I think about the shambolic state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Best known to the common man as the UK, the country was in complete turmoil heading into the summer with a split in the Theresa’s May cabinet, resulting in the resignation of key Tory MPs such as Boris Johnson and David Davis. With a key EU summit to be held on the 18th of October, it’s best to look at recent events as Westminster comes back into session.

Brexit: The beginning of the end (of UK-EU union)

51.9% of the United Kingdom, or the UK, voted to leave the European Union (EU) on the 23rd of June 2016. The UK is currently in a two-year transition period to get its businesses and its people ready to exit, from reverting the colour of their passport back to navy blue, to figuring out how much of Northern Ireland is really Northern Ireland. The UK provisionally have agreed on how much money it owes to the Union and the rights of both UK and EU citizens post-Brexit; but where does it go from here?

The UK is scheduled to formally leave the EU on the 29th of March 2019, at 11 PM GMT after evoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which is a clause that formally informs the European Council of its intentions to leave the EU. Following this would be a transitional period to implement laws and changes by 31st December 2020.

What does this mean for Britain? Former Prime Minister David Cameron, his former Chancellor George Osborne, and many other senior figures who wanted to stay in the EU predicted an immediate economic crisis if the UK voted to leave. While it is true that the pound slumped the day after the referendum, it regained its losses against the dollar, while remaining 15% down against the euro. Predictions of immediate doom were surprisingly wrong, with the UK economy estimated to have grown 1.8% in 2016, second only to Germany’s 1.9% among the world’s G7 leading industrialised nations. Though the economy looked promising and unlikely to slump when Britain does leave the EU, the past month’s unravellings proved comedic and doubtful, as I will look at next.

‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’, what’s going on?

For definition’s sake, a “hard” Brexit implies that the UK is unlikely to compromise on issues like the free movement of people even if it meant leaving the single market or having to give up hopes of aspects of free trade arrangements. However, a “soft” Brexit might follow a similar path to Norway, which is a member of the single market and has to accept the free movement of people as a result of that. Now, it would be in Britain’s best interests to go for a ‘softer’ Brexit. The UK is home to the most educated migrants in the EU, with 80% of the UK’s EU immigrant population to hold a Bachelors degree or higher qualification. A ‘hard’ Brexit would mean an exodus of skilled migrants, especially in the National Health Service (NHS) which are currently facing a lack of local British medical doctors and need the EU doctors to fill in the gaps. It could also have severe negative effects on the economy, as seen in the foreign investments dropping 92% since Brexit; to lose skilled migrants would undoubtedly make the situation worse than it already is.

Rightly so, Theresa May’s Brexit plan, known as the Chequers Plan,  follows the ‘soft’ side, which still establishes (still) close ties with the EU, but most notably, the free movement of EU peoples will end and the European Court of Justice will have no jurisdiction on what the UK can or cannot do. What May has brought to Westminster is a final Brexit offering that pleases no one, but angers everyone. Boris Johnson puts it quite nicely, comparing the deal to polishing a piece of excrement – what he is trying to say is that the plan retains too much of the EU in its deal.

It is seen as far too soft for the fanatics yet still too menacing to the country’s good to command enough MPs’ support. Whatever new damage mitigation it attempts, the deal will still leave the UK as rule-takers, budget contributors, with no MEPs and no seat on any EU councils, brutally exposing how much Westminster loses as compared to what they have now. The head-counters see no majority in the House of Commons for accepting the deal. Labour and other parties will vote against it. That will be a painful decision for some remainers, fearing rejection of a Norway-type deal will lead to something even worse. But they will still vote against, because the deal is still so bad for Britain. Barring the madmen, there will also be absolutely no majority in the House for an economy-killing no-deal crash-out.

With Westminster on break for summer, left-wing activists and Bremainers campaigned for a second referendum. The People’s Vote campaign wanted MPs and activists to submit a motion at the Labour conference, committing the party to backing a new referendum on the final deal. Campaign leaders think the best way to get a new referendum is to get the main opposition party to back it officially. However, as much as it would be interesting to see how this pans out, it would be unlikely for Westminster to go back on triggering Article 50. To reverse that at this late stage would mean a huge loss of political face, and probably require a new prime minister, with the backing of voters in a general election.

Could Boris Johnson Come Back as the UK Prime Minister?

If I was asked this question two years ago, I would have snorted in disgust. As of now, it is a definite possibility I don’t want to consider, but could happen. I have long regarded Boris as a roguish and lazy fool with no interest in detail, who bumbles on from one embarrassing incident to another with never a flicker of self doubt. There is no MP in the UK that is more colourful and embroiled in controversy than Boris Johnson. Take a look at his latest controversy, as he referred to burqa-wearing women as letterboxes.

However, his comments have (sadly) arrived at a well-timed situation in Britain where people are disillusioned with the government’s progress in Brexit and May’s popularity in her own party has never been as low as it is now. He may look like an idiot with no regard for cultural sensitivities and speaks like someone who is fuelled by emotion rather than rationality, but make no mistake.

He is intelligent and calculative, his recent offensive remarks about the burqa were deliberate and well-timed. The Tories (members of the UK Conservative Party) are fed up with May and itching to replace her – already viewing her as a traitor on Brexit and an ineffectual, uninspiring leader. A leadership challenge is being anticipated where two members of the Conservatives will be put up as the next leader, and the members will vote for Boris. He is a free marketeer, but socially liberal enough to not appear old fashioned. He is a proven vote winner — London Mayor and Brexit (showing that northern post-industrial working class are prepared to follow a toff).

This man owns the Brexit brand. Not only will the Tories vote for him, but members and supporters of the United Kingdom Independence Party (known as UKIP) would too. At the 2015 General Election, 12% of the electorate voted UKIP. This vote collapsed in 2017 when it looked like ‘job done’, but the people who put a cross next to UKIP on the ballot paper are still out there. And they are angry, suspecting a double cross by the metropolitan elite through a second referendum. They are Boris’s for the taking.

Moreover, the rise of populism politics is on the rise everywhere in the world. This finds expression through individual political figures who are: anti-establishment, not afraid to speak their mind, angry and impulsive, saying things that their followers want to say but can’t because of political correctness, anti-globalist, anti-liberal, putting the nation at the centre of discourse, and above all authentic. This embodies Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, but he has since been marginalised since Brexit, and Boris is the next best figure that screams. In his speeches, he has emphasised a very nationalist and perhaps ‘populist’ agenda. This is a very stark comparison to his campaign and tenure as the Mayor or London. From 2008–2016, Johnson presented himself as a very liberal and pluralist politician. A politician who was internationalist and open borders and played to the ‘Olympic spirit’.

The Tory members in the country will see him as by far the likeliest candidate to lead them to victory at next election. They are desperate for a bit of charisma and leadership after an uninspiring and sandpaper-like personality May – they know voters will respond accordingly. If you can only think of Boris dangling from a zip-wire with an unfitting helmet holding two Union Jack flags in his hands, you need to be reminded of Boris in full, passionate, unscripted flood. If I could sum up the Conservative party agenda in two words, it would be ‘power’ and ‘Corbyn’. They would do anything to stay in power and keep the Labour Party out.

Of course, this hinges on what Theresa May has planned when she meets key EU personnel, but I will not be surprised if her own party does what the Liberal Party has to Malcolm Turnbull.

Now what?

Two key dates: 18 October, which is the start of the two-day EU summit that is expected to approve a withdrawal agreement, and 29 March 2019, Brexit Day. After the summer break, Westminster is due to unveil its plans for a post-Brexit immigration policy, and a possibly key but hostile Conservative party conference for May to face. Even if a deal is agreed at the October EU summit, May must then spend the following months seeking to push it through the Commons, while the EU must get approval from a supermajority of members – at least 20 of the 27 countries, representing 65% or more of the total EU population. If all this is achieved, the work begins on trade talks and the other measures to come into force at the start of 2021, when the transition period is due to end.

Is it the end of the Chequers deal? Though unpopular, there is no other alternative that could pass through the Commons and have a chance of being accepted by the EU while trying not to rip the Tories in half. A deal based on May’s Chequers plan, with whatever alterations are imposed during negotiations, or a departure without a deal, whether moving to World Trade Organisation trade terms or some other hastily agreed arrangement is more than likely to be the go-ahead.

Will we see Boris Johnson as the next prime minister of the UK? Though it is a possibility in the near future, it is highly unlikely in the immediate horizon. The one thing keeping May in No. 10 Downing Street is the lack of a plausible alternative. Not enough of the Commons is committed to forcing an immediate leadership contest, mindful that installing a committed Brexiter in her place could fracture the party, and Boris though most likely to be in the seat is still divisive in his own party, let alone the country.

Now, grab a cup of tea and await the 18th of October 2018.

One comment

  1. It is the ‘rightly so’ bit that bothers me. The UK was lied to in 1972 when it first joined what was then the EEC. The referendum in 1975 was another case of the government lying to the people. The 2016 referendum allowed the people to have their say based upon facts. The EU is anti-democratic, authoritarian and seeks to destroy Europes nation states. It’s founding creed written by Monnet was to do this by stealth. In my opinion leaving the EU is morally and economically the right thing for the UK to do. Anyone who has studied the facts of the EU and understands what it intends for Europe should walk away from it.

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