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Bollocks to (a No Deal) Brexit

DC DISPATCH--It may be a very small consolation, but ours is not the only government consumed with a wildly unpredictable executive, legislative chaos, and extreme political volatility.

  If anything, our British cousins across the Atlantic have had an even more frenetic week than we have become accustomed to.  With less than two months to go until a hard exit from the European Union looms for the UK, newly minted Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has suffered a series of recent political setbacks that may necessitate a general election down the road.  

In short, London is deeply divided between Tory PM Johnson who is seeking to lead a fractured Conservative Party and those favoring Brexit--the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union--and the “Remainers” who believe this move will lead the UK to catastrophe.  The Brexit debate has been a 3-year struggle that has deeply divided the country, but recent days have seen audacious political skullduggery and party defections on a scale not seen in decades or (perhaps) centuries. 

Why does all this British political theater matter?  The consequences of a “no deal” or “hard Brexit” could be profound for one of America’s largest trading partners and military allies.  If the UK left the EU without an agreed-upon deal to soften the blow for all involved, Great Britain would regain control over immigration, stop paying some $16 billion annually to the EU budget, and would no longer be subject to a host of EU rules and regulations--but also would face higher tariffs, have businesses relocate to remain within the EU Common Market, and lose free movement of its citizens to EU countries (including adjacent Ireland). 

In a breathtaking grand gesture, on Tuesday, Remainer Tory MP Phillip Lee crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the Labour Party while Johnson was mid-speech.  He stated that "the party I joined in 1992 (Tory) is not the party I am leaving today” and that "This Conservative government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways." 

Johnson faces a very complicated path to his hard-fought plan for a hard Brexit. On Wednesday, the controversial and iconoclastic Johnson—known in the UK as the “British Trump”—called for a snap election and referred to Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as a “chlorinated chicken.”  (His opponent Corbyn is focused on passing legislation to avoid a no deal Brexit before Johnson can dissolve Parliament.)  

Johnson has called for a snap election to take place on October 14th, but in order to do so he needs the support of ⅔ of Commons. While Johnson can count on the support of UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and his followers, Johnson failed to secure enough votes in the first round of legislation this week & and is not expected to fare much better when a second election bill comes to the floor on Monday.

Johnson is only six weeks in the job, and already is in a precarious position.  In a high-stakes move which could precipitate his own downfall, he has purged all conservatives who failed to support him. A spokesman from Johnson's office notified members of the media that every Conservative MP who fails to support his government in a series of upcoming votes, including MP's who only vote present, will be removed from the party ranks. When asked if the same party directive would apply to Tories who could potentially rebel against Johnson's deal., he declared that “What’s sauce is for the goose is sauce for the gander,” meaning that all public expressions of dissent will be treated in the same manner: expulsion. Johnson has “deselected” or removed the Tory rebels from the party, including Winston Churchill’s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames.  

There have been over 24 defections from the Conservative Party, as evidenced by the 328 to 301 victory to thwart a no deal Brexit, and a second vote of 329 to 300 approving a bill to delay the October 31st exit to the winter of 2019. In the meantime, the House of Lords--a pro-Remain chamber, --has tabled innumerable amendments in an attempt to stall any legislation from passing until Johnson’s efforts to dissolve Parliament take effect on Monday - the House of Lords passed the bill on Friday afternoon. Two defeats in two days do not augur well for Mr. Johnson and only serve to elicit his dictatorial tendencies. 

Even Phillip Hammond, (aka "Spreadsheet Phil"), a several-time Cabinet Member from Johnson’s own party, has cautioned Johnson against such iron-fisted tactics. The potential loss of a governing majority in Commons threatens Johnson's ability to remain in power. He is at serious risk of facing a no-confidence vote, similar to the ones Theresa May faced during the days when she tussled with Brexit. 

Though only in power for less than two months, Johnson has brought chaos and mistrust. However, unlike his predecessor, Theresa May, he is willing to fight for his promise to leave the European Union by October 31st without a deal. It seems clear that Johnson has no reservations about a no-deal Brexit and may try to gain political capital by blaming the EU for being hard on the UK by not extending a deal with more favorable terms. EU leaders seem to feel that a no-deal Brexit is the most likely outcome and are anxiously waiting to see a sickening English patient beg for a cure.  

While Johnson continues to claim that he is working toward a deal and that progress is being made, that sounds as credible as Donald Trump's claims of peace with North Korea being around the corner. While Johnson tinkers with plans and tries to tailor a workable Brexit plan, one thing is clear. The British people are growing tired of immature and dictatorial tactics and threats by Johnson to go it alone.  

It is highly irresponsible for the UK to leave the EU without a framework for trade and movement. Johnson’s approach is likely to inflict pain on the British economy.  Unable to control his party in the House of Commons and with increasingly waning   prospects for the general election option, Johnson may may find himself dead in the ditch surrounded by kipper--as possibly the shortest-tenured Prime Minister in British history. Intransigence has left him isolated with his tat of a “no deal deal,” in tatters, the UK economy in shambles, and the majority of the UK saying bollocks to Brexit. 

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Koz, The Frontier Post in Pakistan and other important news publications.) . Photo credit:  Maathew Steeples, publisher of the Steeplet Times in London (http://thesteepletimes.com/).

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