The New UK Prime Minister Will Have Exactly the Same Problem as the Old One

Boris JohnsonThe UK’s new prime minister will be announced on Tuesday. And it will make absolutely no difference at all to anyone.

Even if Jeremy Hunt had a chance of winning, it would not change the political situation one bit.

Not that he has a chance, of course. Everyone knows Boris Johnson will become prime minister despite being totally unfit for the job.

Brexit continues to be a time-sucking, resource-leeching distraction for the entire country. Because of Brexit, UK campaigners and politicians cannot direct appropriate attention to climate change, the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, or the desperate lack of funding for public services.

Businesses have no idea whether they will still be importing goods in four months’ time. Even the people who voted for Brexit and want it passionately now say, “Just get it over with!”

If I had to bet on an outcome, I’d say we are in for at least ten more years of not knowing what will happen.

There is No Brexit Agreement That Will Pass

Parliament will not pass the agreement with the EU that Theresa May negotiated.

When she attempted to arrange a compromise within the UK parliament to get it through, she was immediately ousted by her own party, which shows just how little room there is for movement. It just won’t happen.

In parallel, the EU will not renegotiate her agreement. It has wasted many months attempting to negotiate with hapless British ministers, and presumably has no desire to prolong the agony.

Besides, the agreement is just the first in a very long, protracted process of debating and negotiating with the UK, so it wants to get to stage two as soon as possible.

The UK’s Three Options

Theresa MaySo without an agreement that can be passed by Parliament, or constrained by the EU, the UK has three options.

  1. Leave without a deal. This is essentially where all laws governing trade and travel cease to exist overnight. Some planning has been done, but nowhere near enough to prevent a massive economic shock. The other main issue with this is the island of Ireland, which is then almost impossibly split by a land border that is currently invisible.

    The border weaves through people’s houses and fields of livestock; one family home has its front door in one country and its back door in the other. It would have to be somehow marked and patrolled, undoing the fragile peace facilitated by the Good Friday agreement, which currently allows freedom of movement and choice of nationality.

  2. Cancel Brexit altogether. The UK can revoke its application to leave the EU without EU agreement, but it cannot unilaterally postpone the decision. So canceling is really the only guaranteed way to halt the process without having to seek anyone else’s permission.

  3. Have another vote. A prime minister with time and inclination could re-run the referendum now that we are further down the line. Of course, Boris Johnson has neither the time nor the inclination.

    I’d love to believe that this provides an easy way forward. But there’s nothing stopping either side from lying or cheating, because the laws on that are the same as they were last time. If anything, the loopholes are just going to be more obvious now, and the campaigns more ruthless, because both sides have had a practice run.

In a hypothetical second vote, the remain side could expect — at best — a slight swing in their favor. This is hardly going to settle anything, although it might fuel the compromise position for some sort of half-in, half-out option that pleases nobody.

I personally think the first vote should have been voided once the massive illegal overspending came to light. But that opportunity is long gone.

No Border No Barrier
Sinn Féin protest against a hard border post-Brexit.

It’s All About the Conservatives… Again

Boris Johnson, the man who will likely win on Tuesday, is unconcerned about the outcome of Brexit. The Conservative Party likes the noises he makes on Brexit, mainly because it has new competition: the Brexit Party.

For those who lost interest in Brexit many months ago, you may have missed the bit when Nigel Farage set up the Brexit Party Limited — a public company — after failing to be elected as an MP for Ukip seven times.

Along with his rebrand comes a rather appropriate “optimization” of what being a political party actually means in Brexit Britain; the Brexit Party has no manifesto, and takes untraceable donations via PayPal.

(One of its MEPs, David Bull, recently complained that he had to travel to Strasbourg to do his job as an MEP on his first day, having presumably failed to look up the location of the office before applying.)

The Conservative Party is rapidly losing ground to the Brexit Party because Farage wants to get Brexit over with, and doesn’t care what happens during or afterward. This is fitting, because a very large proportion of the electorate feel much the same, as does — Hey! — Boris Johnson.

The New PM Cannot Solve Brexit

On Tuesday, the new prime minister will be faced with exactly the same shitty situation the old one was faced with, but with less time to do something about it. (The EU warned the Conservative party not to waste time; the Conservatives know that wasting time is the only thing keeping them in power.)

To find its way out of this mess, the UK will need to do something that it so far has failed to do. It will need to look back at the reasons Brexit came about: inequality, an outdated voting system that doesn’t represent left or right adequately, and a generation that enjoys the workers’ rights and benefits of EU membership without really being clear on how they were won.

Of course, the fact that various Conservative politicians have part-time jobs with prominent right-wing newspapers plays a part in this mess as well.

Right now, the only positive outcome I could hope for from any of this would be a modernization of the voting system in the UK. That way, at least voters would be better represented in normal Elections, more able to have their voices heard without fear of a “wasted” vote, and less likely to move to extremes to be counted. And — like in Germany — I’d like to see a total ban on referendums.

4 thoughts on “The New UK Prime Minister Will Have Exactly the Same Problem as the Old One

  1. I didn’t know they could cancel without EU approval. That seems to be the only sane option at this point. I gather the pols who just want to get it over with are personally wealthy-ish and don’t think whatever happens will bother them. I have been worried about Ireland since I read this might undo the Good Friday accords. They would have to do some version of eminent domain seizures to carve out a path for the wall. Another fucking wall. And Scotland doesn’t want to leave the EU either. What becomes of that?

    • @ Lawrence — my guess is Scotland has another independence referendum, and wins this time.

      No matter what happens, when this all plays out, the U.K. will have gone from a very powerful member of a loose 28-nation trade arrangement to even more of America’s client state than they already were.

      The Ireland situation is a hot mess. For historic reasons, I can’t picture Northern Ireland having an independence referendum. They’d end up the junior partner on that lovely island.

    • Brexit is exactly the kind of question that should not be put to a vote. I run into this all the time in California where really esoteric, technocratic questions are put before the voters for some reason. Even after years of discussion, I think most people in the UK are still just confused about it. That’s why another vote would be so dangerous. And it’s amazing. This is twice when the Conservative government decided they should vote on something they shouldn’t have. It speaks to how cowardly they are.

      My understanding is that a lot of conservatives want Brexit because it will allow them to make draconian changes to the government. Of course, many on the left feel similarly because the EU would stop it from making socialist changes. But Jeremy Corbyn has been fairly consistent in his opposition to Brexit.

      • You’re exactly right. So the weird thing about Brexit is that many of the old guard on both sides of the political divide want the same thing.

        We are beginning to see the parties themselves split into leave and remain sides because of this. And I think further fragmentation would show that the First Past The Post voting system is unfit for modern times.

        This could also be the first time in my lifetime that the FPTP system hinders the Conservative party, rather than doing it a favour. Once they see their vote being divided, they might want to do something about it.

        Your answer on Scotland is also exactly right. Scotland was close to leaving last time it had a referendum and it has even more reason to go now. I think this might also give young remain voters an easy way to move from England to an EU country without having to learn any new languages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *