September 12, 2019

BREXIT: Things as they stand

Xinhua/Scanpix
John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, announces his intention to step down in London, Britain, on Sept. 9, 2019. British lawmakers on Monday night voted to reject Prime Minister Boris Johnson s second bid for a snap general election, dealing another heavy blow to his Brexit strategy.
John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, announces his intention to step down in London, Britain, on Sept. 9, 2019. British lawmakers on Monday night voted to reject Prime Minister Boris Johnson s second bid for a snap general election, dealing another heavy blow to his Brexit strategy.

Following the developments in London over the past two weeks has been a challenge, and it is far from over.

To prepare for the next stage, here is a mid-review.

The Parliament

The House of Commons has been prolonged and will not be sitting until mid-October. Prior to the exceptionally long “break”, a bill on EU withdrawal was passed and signed into law. The law does not allow Parliament to pursue a “no-deal” option for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU unless the Commons agrees. Thus, the government is required by 19 October 2019 to ask the EU to extend Article 50 until 31 January 2020. Additionally, the House of Commons voted down two government proposals calling for general elections.

As sad news to many who have been watching Parliamentary TV, the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, said he would be stepping down as a speaker and MP either as soon as the next election or on 31 October, whichever comes first. Bercow has been at the forefront in the power struggle between Parliament and the government by advocating for the central role of the Parliament in the decision-making process. Therefore, his resignation will have a significant effect on the future. Primarily known for his exceptional use of the English language and a theatrical style of management (just some examples here), Speaker Bercow has also been accused of bullying while at the workplace.

The Party Establishment

The party conference season is starting. The Conservative Party conference will take place in Manchester on the final days of September and early days of October. The Labour Party will convene in Brighton during the last week of September. Liberal Democrats will come together in Bournemouth at the end of this week and the Scottish National Party in Aberdeen this October. These party conferences are an insight into where the parties stand and what their vision is. Brexit is undoubtedly going to be an issue; however, the selection of other topics should indicate what kind of general election could be expected. Will it be solely a Brexit election, or will other policy questions also gain attention? Either way, it will be hard to discuss anything other than Brexit. Notably, Chancellor of the Exchequers Sajid Javid presented the government’s spending review last week, but it gained little attention both by the press and in political circles.

The Prime Minister

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would refuse to seek Parliament’s required extension from the EU. The talk is that aides are looking at ways to bypass the required extension.

PM Johnson is in a miserable and challenging place. He planned to show that he could crush Parliament and command the Brexit process. By indicating that he was not afraid to go through with a “no-deal”, he hoped to push the EU to open the withdrawal agreement and remove the Northern Ireland backstop. However, a plan with such high stakes was hard for Parliament to swallow, and thus a backbenchers’ bill that ruled out a “no-deal” and requested an extension was passed instead.

After failing at his plan, PM Johnson wanted to call for a general election (believing that the opposition would support his bid) to gain a new mandate from the public to move forward with his plan. If PM Johnson won in this hypothetical general election, he could cancel the previously passed bill that ruled out a “no-deal” thus allowing him to still pursue the “no-deal” option in the remaining weeks (or week) before 31 October and return to his initial plan. Since his call for a general election was voted down twice, he is now required to go to the EU and ask for an extension.

But since PM Johnson does not want to ask for an extension, he has two options left: to call a vote of no-confidence on himself or to resign.

The Opposition

The opposition with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the front has been surprisingly successful. Two drivers matter here. First, the Labour party together with the independents, LibDems and Scottish National Party oppose a “no-deal” because the negative effects of a “no-deal” are too strong for them to stomach. Secondly, after PM Johnson’s behavior to his party’s MPs, the both Conservative and Labour MP’s contempt toward him is high.

Labour Party does not support going to elections if the “no-deal” option remains on the table. This is because Labour knows that the “no-deal” option would be a strong card in PM Johnson’s hands during the elections. Thus, excluding elections helps the opposition. There is also talk of the Labour Party forming an alternative government. However, Labour Party’s internal disagreements and conflicting attitudes towards Jeremy Corbyn have not allowed this idea to gain much steam.

The European Union

The EU has moved forward. A new Commission was presented this week, and new topics are dominating the agenda. There is Brexit fatigue in both Brussels and the capitals. The EU has said that while the withdrawal agreement concluded under PM May will not be opened, changes to the political declaration can be made. Because it is not in the interest of the EU to allow the UK to crash out without a deal, it is likely that the UK will get another extension if they ask for one. Nevertheless, on 17 October there will be tough questions and discussions among the Head of States at the European Council questioning the purpose of an extension and whether any conditions should be attached to one. No doubt there will be a great deal of bluffing, but there will also be genuine frustration and will to see progress made on the matter.

Brexit is going to be the talk of the town for a long time to come, which is not surprising since it is an exceptional occurrence. However, let’s not forget that the more important question still ahead: What will the future hold for the EU-UK relationship?

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