For the first time in a very long time, members of the Conservative Party in Britain are talking of proroguing Parliament to ensure that they are able to force an exit from the European Union without any form of withdrawal agreement. Yes, you heard right. This is the natural party of power, that has set a number of democratic traditions around the world, that now talks openly of ignoring Parliament. They know what they are going to do will be hugely damaging to the United Kingdom, and yet they will risk anarchy in order to get their way. Had this happened in India, the British Prime Minister would have intoned solemnly about the sanctity of democratic institutions, and the Foreign Secretary would have been dispatched to talk sense to the natives.
What does proroguing mean? It simply means, ending this session of Parliament by the Queen on advice of the Prime Minister. Theoretically, the Prime Minister could ask the Queen to prorogue the Parliament until November. Then all unfinished and pending business will expire. The new PM can then negotiate an agreement or simply drive Britain off the Brexit cliff without Parliament to stop him or delay him. It would not be unconstitutional, but it would create the biggest possible uproar in the country.
How alarmist is this scenario? First – we have to separate out the personalities and ask how much of this fear is because of the individuals involved. Then we have to look at the probabilities that this would indeed happen. And lastly, if a No-Deal Brexit did happen, how damaging would it be.
A No-Deal Brexit is a total disaster. Britain leaves its comfortable trading and political arrangements secured through 40 years of being a member of the European Union and starts at Point Zero. Enough and more has been written about how much of social and economic damage this will do. And yet the number of responsible politicians advocating this option, based on the utmost ignorance of how the real world does business, is absolutely astonishing. Any other normal country would shy away from No-Deal.
As I write, the man likely to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is Alexander Boris de Pleffel Johnson – Boris for short. He is a liar, a dissembler, incapable of serious administrative work, known for bad judgement, who relies on his quick wit to score the kind of Etonian quip that very often gets confused for intelligence. He now advocates a No-Deal Brexit, the reneging of Britain’s financial commitments to the EU, and harbours fantasies of how the EU will suddenly roll over and ask for their stomachs to be scratched the moment Boris shows up in Brussels. The rest of the field – with the sterling exception of Rory Stewart – are lightweights who only see the opportunity to climb to high office without a General Election. Rory Stewart, on the other hand, is an Oxonian, who served in the Secret Service, spent four years walking across Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq,. speaks fluent Dari, Pushtu and Urdu, has written four book, and taught at Harvard. Rory has some thoughts about how to square the circle of Brexit, to find a balance between various choices and options. Of course, he has no chance of being elected by the Conservative Party, consisting of 300 MPs and about 120,000 geriatrics. Quite simply, he is not Boris.
Boris Johnson has plied the Conservative base with the red meat of populist, anti European, anti immigrant politics secured with Churchillian prose and huge sweeps of rhetoric of how we fought the Boche on beaches. But he does not believe in any of this. In fact, before the 2016 Referendum, he had two articles ready – one for and one against. He opted to play the Leave card at the very last minute. No one believes anything that Boris would say.
So why elect him at all? The Tory Party knows that a General Election is inevitable. Despite all the bluster of re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU is now adamant that they will do no such thing. Further, Boris himself is deeply distrusted by the EU. He does not even have the ability to evoke sympathy – something that the wooden but stolid Theresa May used to evoke and which caused people like Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel to go out of their way to help her. Boris will get no such assistance.
The Tories are gambling on a crowd-puller to head up their campaign, someone who can add some razzmatazz to sex up their otherwise dodgy record in government. Even if he prorogues Parliament and forces a no-deal Brexit, a General Election will take place after Britain has crashed out. Boris is considered reckless in his private and public lives, and this is why the Tories are electing him. They need a charming scoundrel, not a serious politician.
The best Britain can hope for is that Boris occupies No 10 long enough to either crash out of the EU or call a General Election without crashing out. What a bad set of choices of a great nation. The New Statesman’s cover this week is savage. Take a look.