:-Inderesh Kumar Jain
1 It is more than a little mortifying and perplexing as one attempts to fathom the ‘BREXIT’ conundrum. It has been a while since that fateful June of 2016 when David Cameron let loose that genie of ‘BREXIT’, and ‘lost’ the referendum, since he had personally campaigned ‘Remain’, to his undying regret (51.9 % voted to leave the European Union (EU) in the referendum).
2That Theresa May, Cameron’s successor was unable to steer the ship of the State to its next destination, is testimony to the incredibly complex formulations and intangibles, that are essentially the ingredients of BREXIT. She had to stand down, after the deal that she had been negotiating with the EU for leaving since Mar 2017, having triggered Article 50 (that Article of the Treaty of the European Union which mandates that “any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its constitutional requirements”), was defeated in Westminster, thrice. (On 15 Jan 19, in the first meaningful vote, her deal was rejected by a margin of 230 votes; on 12 Mar 19, in her second attempt to push her deal through, she was defeated by 149 votes and on 29 Mar 19 her third and final attempt was overruled by 58 votes). It would be worth noting here that on 27 Mar 19, in a last ditch effort to woo MPs to support her she had offered to step down and not lead the Tories in the next election. She resigned on 24 Jul 19 after Boris Johnson was elected the leader of the Tory party and the PM.
3 Boris Johnson.
(a) To say that Boris Johnson is a figure of derision would be going a little too far but it is true that he arouses strong emotions in his supporters and detractors alike. For those who know him well wonder how he survives ‘crises/ fiascos/ scandals’ alike, that he strews in his path as he bumbles along. He has been criticized by figures on the right and the left of the political divide, of racism and using homophobic language and also of alleged cronyism/elitism, dishonesty and plain laziness. He has also been characterized as unscrupulous, completely inward looking and untruthful.
(b) He has been married multiple times; his first marriage lasted from 1987 to 1993. The second marriage, to childhood friend Marina Wheeler, lasted from 1993 to 2018 and he has four children from this union. It is currently under dissolution and currently he cohabits with Carrie Symonds. Never in the recorded history of the extant population of Britain has a PM had an unmarried partner while in office. This is unexplored territory in the history of the British Isles. He is known to have had extra marital relationships and has fathered children out of wedlock. As a matter of fact, he has had the ignominy of having been sacked from his position in the Conservative Party for lying about his relationships outside marriage.
(c) His physical appearance makes him out to be rather comical to say the least, what with a blond bouffant, a la Trump. His American counterpart calls him ‘Britain Trump’ and seems to fancy that he ie Trump is liked in Britain.
(d) He started his career as a journalist in 1987 with ‘The Times’ and was dismissed for an untruth. He used his family connections, thereafter to seek employment with ‘The Daily Telegraph’ and ‘The Spectator’, both newspapers of repute. He has been accused of racism and bigotry in his writings. He gravitated to politics in 2001 as an MP from Henley, after having promised the owner of the newspapers that he was then working for, that he would not join politics. He had been labelled as ‘ineffably duplicitous’ for having failed to honour the commitment that he had made to his employer.
(e) He was twice Mayor of London (2008-12 and 2012-16), wherein he had a rather patchy innings. He thereafter, returned to the House of Commons as an MP from Uxbridge and South Runslip. In the ‘BREXIT’ referendum in 2016 he endorsed the ‘Leave’ vote, bending with the wind, as he then realized that the ‘Leave’ EU votes would take the day. He remained in Theresa May’s cabinet as her Foreign Secretary and it is said that in his usual bumbling and insensitive manner he ruffled quite a few feathers and showed himself up in very poor light, with ramifications on the image of the country and this has obviously had a rather deleterious effect. He resigned from the Cabinet in July 2018, apparently in protest against the negotiations being carried out by Theresa May with the EU.
4 BREXIT. This is a portmanteau for Britain exiting the EU and is attributed to Peter Wilding who coined this term in 2012 and the Oxford Dictionary awarded the origin of the word to him in 2016. (Britain joined the EU in 1973 which was ratified by a referendum in 1975.)
(a) It seems apparent that “BREXIT” was spawned by an upsurge of English exceptionalism, which had come to the fore and was simmering beneath the surface for quite a while. The post Great War world order is undergoing a metamorphosis. ‘Nationalist’ voices are increasingly being heard in national capitals across the world, be it Greece, Germany, France, Poland, the US et al.
(b) An analysis of the 2016 Brexit referendum clearly defines the fault lines as it were, and the ‘Leave’ vote was concentrated mostly in the rural parts of England, whereas the metropolises voted a more liberal ‘Remain’.
It is said that ‘Englishness’ was reasserting itself, after probably reaching a sense of having lost control of the rudder of its own destiny because of the integration with the EU. This is apparently more a throwback on history, as the English pride themselves on being the first functioning nation state in the Western hemisphere going back to the 13th century, with a language, set of customs and laws and a very distinctive identity. At one point of time it was said that the sun never set on the ‘Empire’. The ‘Empire’ is physically only a memory now, but figuratively is still strong in the English psyche; and what remains is the Commonwealth, which is largely losing its sheen. The union and the connect with Scotland, Wales and Ireland has been subjected to an intense scrutiny in the light of some very momentous developments which have shaped the current environment. The Belfast Peace Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) in 1998 and the establishment of the Sottish Parliament in 1999 have impacted on the world view of the English.
(c) What can illustrate this better than the results of the Census held in England in 2011. The undertones of the currents of the deep seated disaffection were plainly evident. In an answer to the questions asked of the populace, ie whether they viewed themselves as British, British and English or English; a majority said that they considered themselves English only. This is very illustrative.
(d) The construct with the EU may probably also be touched by the prominent role the British played in the World War and the predominant place at the world table that they enjoyed. The EU is perhaps viewed as more of an enterprise which is biased by a majority ‘continental European’ view and in effect detracts from the English perspective on matters of governance, and other concomitant aspects, as it affects the British Isles. This may also have unleashed a perceived persecution complex amongst the English, as having to follow rules and regulations that are made in the European Parliament, far removed from ground reality. There is therefore, a feeling on being on board the EU on sufferance and an exhibition of extreme discomfiture was manifest in the outcome of the referendum of 2016.
(e) Brexit has been the Waterloo of two PMs; David Cameron, who initially triggered the referendum, and Theresa May, who also resigned in Jul 2019,
(f) A general election called by her in Apr 2017, in the fervent hope of increasing her majority in the Parliament, with the backdrop of the triggering of Article 50 which it was hoped would get her the desired result, resulted in a hung Parliament. Negotiations with the EU however, proceeded apace and a certain level of understanding was apparent but failed to bear fruit.(In the interim she had had a further delay in the date for leaving the EU agreed to by the European Parliament for the third time and as of now this stands at 31 Oct 19.)This lead to her resignation and Boris Johnson taking over in Jul 2019.
(g) Since then, Boris has had some very stark moments and may have scripted history, for a PM to have lost three major debates within a week of the resumption of Parliament after the summer recess in September. In the last week of August Boris recommended to the Crown that the Parliament be prorogued ie suspended (this is allowed under the norms of procedure in the Parliament, when a new government is sworn in, to give time for them to firm in their agenda by way of the Royal address to the Parliament). This prorogation from mid-September to mid-October leaves very little time for the Parliament to discuss the road ahead. (As per the rules in vogue the default position is that Britain will have to leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October).
(h) Sensitive to the way in which Boris is ostensibly reducing the time for a debate by proroguing Parliament, the MPs have voted overwhelmingly across party lines to take over the agenda of the House.
(i) The very next day ie 05 Sep 19, the House voted again in a massive show of bipartisanship, to block a ‘No Deal’ exit which a very large percentage of MPs wish to avoid. Boris Johnson had stated that come what may, he would push Britain out of the EU on 31 October without a deal. He lost the vote 301-328 and this prompted the removal of the whip for 21 MPs from the Tory Party ie he suspended these MPs from the Party.
(j) Having lost two major votes in Parliament the next day Boris moved a motion calling for a general election on 15 Oct 19, a day after the Parliament resumes work after prorogation. The connotation was not lost on the House that this was obviously a ploy to appear to leave the decision to the people. This also appears to be an attempt to shift the centre of focus from himself to the opposition and the populace; an attempt to obviously proffer an alibi to his constituency and to the electorate, that his attempts to deliver Brexit have been repeatedly foiled by the opposition and the ‘Remainers ‘. The vote on the motion calling for a general election was negated by the House; as per law 2/3 of the strength of the MPs in the House have to affirm the motion calling for an election; this did not happen.
(k) Having pushed himself into an unviable position in which he will now be forced to retract from his stated preference of leaving the EU without a deal on 31 Oct 19, and ask the EU for more time from them to consider the road ahead. It is more than a little surprising that the British position is posited on some very conflicting and convoluted parameters. A ‘No Deal’ Brexit is ruinous for the British economy and as per the Bank of England the GDP will tank by not less than 5.5 %, unemployment will rise by almost 7% and inflation will increase by 5.5%. A ‘No Deal’ Brexit is not acceptable to the EU for a very fundamental reason which is the Irish ‘Backstop’. ‘The Belfast Agreement’, mentioned earlier, was the result of years of painstaking effort which put an end to the bloodletting and strife and laid down the guidelines as to how Northern Ireland was to be governed. This agreement was underwritten by USA and Bill Clinton had taken a very keen interest in the formulation of the agreement. The sticking point is the ‘Soft Border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, this ‘Soft Border’ which promises the free flow of people and goods without mandatory customs checks, will become ‘Hard’ ie will not allow this free move and this is likely to revert to a very explosive situation which existed prior to the agreement.
5 The future looks bleak unless a negotiated solution is found, which caters not only for the economic upheaval which will follow in the wake of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit but also addresses the fissiparous forces which would come into play in Ireland and Scotland, since Scotland too had voted to ‘Remain’. Is another referendum on the cards? Or is it the call to the hustings? The British have painted themselves into a very piquant situation which will require sagacity, steadfastness and a great deal of maturity to resolve. Only the future will tell.