NEW DELHI: Britain’s parliament was left both shaken and stirred as Prime Minister Boris Johnson efficiently paved the way for a ‘no deal’ Brexit by the suspension of the UK’s legislative body. The move, sanctioned by the Queen, seems to leave little political options for the ‘Remainers’ and for the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn who had been counting on early elections through a ‘no-confidence vote’ against Boris Johnson’s government. Instead, the prime minister has carried off the ‘coup’, though by no means is the political and legal battle over, by using a move that constitutional experts say has not been used since 1948.
By using the ‘prorogation’ gambit, Boris is looking to secure his political future and his reputation. He would be well aware of the ‘humiliation’ Theresa May faced when trying to pass her Brexit bill, which ultimately led to calls for her resignation. Secondly, through this measure, Boris has reduced chances of the vote of no-confidence and ensured that general elections will take place after October 31 – the day the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.
Third, he had little choice. In the 2016 referendum, 61 per cent of Conservative voters voted ‘leave’ and if Boris softened his stance on Brexit, there were fears of defection to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. The fact that Farage did so well in the European elections held this May – outshining both the Conservative and Labour party – suggests that the public mood in the UK on Europe hasn’t changed.
Danger to UK
There is no doubt that a no-deal Brexit is dangerous for the UK. By defaulting on the 39 billion pound ‘divorce deal’ that was agreed to by the then prime minister Theresa May, Boris leaves an already angry EU even more frustrated. The EU says that if the money is not paid it won’t agree to a trade deal, which will hit Britain hard as nearly 50 per cent of the island nation’s trade is with Europe.
Trade issues are just the beginning of Britain’s woes. A no-deal Brexit will mean a hard border between Northern Ireland (which is British territory) and the independent Republic of Ireland, ensuring that terror attacks by hardline Irish militant groups could reignite. But it is not just the ‘Irish problem’, the biggest problem for the British PM is that a ‘no-deal Brexit’ could mean that he may soon no longer be the British PM. Scotland is fervently pro-Europe and the irony is that as Britain reaches out to the world the UK itself could soon unravel.
Boris has been short of specifics on how to deal with these problems and has instead sought to portray the idea of a great ‘Global Britain’. This strategy fits in with his outreach to the world, especially the U.S., a move that has been eagerly reciprocated by President Trump. Trump has always been uneasy with the idea of a strong EU as he sees it as a challenge to the U.S.’s stance on major world issues. Thus, encouraging a PM who is anti-Europe suits him well.
On the other side of the globe, China and India have been less than enthusiastic. Former PM Theresa May was keen on concluding a trade deal with India and she visited the country in November 2016. But the visit though hugely symbolic, as it was May’s first foreign visit outside the EU, also ended up being much ado about nothing.
Unlike the U.S. which has emphasised its ‘special relationship’ with Britain, India and China have seen the UK as a ‘gateway into Europe.’ If a no-deal Brexit were to take place Indian companies will migrate to Europe as is already happening. Prime Minister Modi enjoys close ties with President Macron and the India-France relationship may deepen, post a no-deal Brexit.
View from Brussels
There are some who believe that Boris’s strong-arm tactics will cause European leaders to bend to the UK’s demands. This is because Brussels does not want to weaken the EU by losing the UK. Such a view is flawed because it betrays a poor understanding of the relationship between Britain and Europe. Despite joining the EU in 1973, Britain has never got used to the idea of a ‘united Europe’ and the feeling has been reciprocated, with Europe seeing the UK as the ‘outsider’ who values the U.S. more than its next-door neighbours. Such a feeling has translated into exasperation and today European countries are reconciled to a British exit.
Europe also has another set of more pressing problems to deal with. The rise of far-right nationalists who have come to power in eastern European countries and elsewhere across the continent, is a severe threat to the idea of a united EU. And with strong Eurocrats such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel either incapacitated or on the verge of retirement like EU president Jean-Claude Juncker, this pressure on the idea of the EU will increase in the days to come.
But while Europe may be facing challenges it is no means a divided house just yet. So when Boris turns to it and the world speaking the language of a ‘Great’ Britain he may soon find that ‘no-deal’ could soon turn into ‘no-options’ for his country. This is something he will have to deal with post-October 31.