So now we know: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s goal is for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in a glorious blaze of self-immolation known as a no-deal Brexit.
The new British nationalism, as actualized by the leading lights of the strange new Conservative Party, apparently demands it. The U.K. can’t just leave Europe; it has to crash out. The bridges have to be burned.
And we thought Gotterdammerung was a German concept.
Three years ago, Mr. Johnson was one of the leaders of the Leave campaign, which told Britons to vote for Brexit in order to “Take Back Control.”
It was allegedly about reclaiming ancient British ways and institutions from the depredations of faceless, unelected Eurocrats – and the most British of institutions in need of re-empowering was said to be Westminster, the fount of democracy and Mother of Parliaments.
So what did the new PM do on Wednesday? He announced the suspension of Parliament – for fear that its democratic representatives would take evasive action against his moves toward Brexit, which will be triggered, deal or no deal, on Oct. 31. As part of a movement allegedly dedicated to the supremacy of Parliament, Mr. Johnson shut down Parliament.
It’s all perfectly logical, or would be if this were a lost Monty Python sketch about the Ministry of Ironic Contradictions.
Any plan for Brexit is a plan for economic subtraction. There’s no escaping that fact. But the size of the subtraction depends on the shape of the plan.
Done right, Brexit might only be a small minus, a mild negative and manageable inconvenience. It’s possible to imagine a Brexit that doesn’t play havoc with the British economy, and that doesn’t lead to Scottish independence and the dissolution of the U.K. It’s possible to imagine a change that, while not for the better, is at least smooth and minimally painful.
Unfortunately, that’s not what Mr. Johnson has in mind. He’s gunning for a Brexit that will be as chaotic and destructive as possible: the no-deal version.
It’s a plan to not have a plan. It’s the equivalent of proposing a family vacation whose itinerary involves travelling to Dover, admiring the white cliffs and then driving off them – but promising the kids that, once this whole testing-gravity bit is over, and a few minor car repairs have been effectuated, all sorts of seriously fun escapades await.
Parliament will sit next week, but will then be prorogued until Oct. 14. If that happens, Mr. Johnson’s government will be an executive without a legislature, unsupervised and unconstrained for more than a month.
By mid-October, it may be too late for Parliament to stop the train to no-deal Brexit. Given that the only deal that Europe can offer Britain is one unacceptable to the current government, it’s hard to see how the coming weeks can lead anywhere else.
Members of Parliament, even those MPs who favour some form of Brexit, have to stop the prorogation plan, and they have to do it next week. Mr. Johnson’s Conservative government is a minority, propped up by a fringe party from Northern Ireland, and Parliament has repeatedly made clear that, while a majority of MPs may support Brexit in some form, a majority do not support it at any cost, or in its self-destructive, no-deal form.
The best way to set things right is for MPs to vote no-confidence in the government, which could trigger new elections. It’s an outcome many believe Mr. Johnson secretly desires, since the opposition parties are divided and an election held today would likely see the Conservatives unifying the right side of the spectrum. An Etonian populist running against “elites” trying to deprive voters of their Brexit referendum spoils: It sounds absurd, but so does everything in British politics since 2016. Mr. Johnson may just win.
Then again, as his predecessor Theresa May learned when she called a snap election and voters clapped back, Britons may yet surprise. A slight majority voted for Brexit; they did not vote for chaos, or Brexit at any cost.
Nor did they vote against Parliament, or voters, having a say on the final form of Brexit, or whether, having seen the offer, they’d prefer the status quo.
Mr. Johnson’s plan to sideline Parliament cannot stand. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic. It certainly isn’t British.