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The U.K. is showing us that even the most venerable democracy is fragile

REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Protestors, with one of them dressed as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, demonstrating outside the Houses of the Parliament in London on Tuesday.

Just what Britain needs. Another election.

There is a good chance, however, that at the end of the tumultuous week ahead, that’s where the United Kingdom will be heading. There also is a decent chance that despite the mess they’ve made of Brexit, the Conservative Party will come out on top.

If that happens, next year at this time Boris Johnson will be prime minister of a country no longer in the European Union. The opposition Labor Party will have dumped Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, and will be engaged in some deep soul-searching. Scotland will be rushing toward exits. 

Bored by the endless drama across the pond? An awful lot of Brits are, too. But this train wreck-cum-dumpster fire is a cautionary lesson in how badly even the most venerable democracy can screw up. And remember that, at a time when we’re all wondering when the next recession will hit, Brexit-induced troubles in Britain won’t be confined to Britain. London may not run the world anymore, but it’s still the center of a Top 10 economy. The U.K. economy is slowing down, and Germany’s giant export market, for instance, already is feeling the effects

Of all the results of the Brexit mess, a no-deal departure would be the most disruptive. For months, businesses have been stockpiling food, medicine and many other goods. In late July, the International Monetary Fund listed a chaotic Brexit among the chief dangers to the world economy.

Because Johnson curtailed the amount of time Parliament will be in session this fall, the next few days have a crisis feel to them. The Brexit date, now Oct. 31, already has been delayed twice, and Johnson insists that Britain will leave this time – deal or no deal. Parliament has previously rejected leaving without a deal, but after a few days of work in early September, it will be adjourned until mid-October. That leaves precious little time to act, particularly for a body that tied itself securely in knots over Brexit earlier this year.

Johnson says the adjournment is a normal breather to give his government a chance to shape its agenda  for Parliament’s next session. Opponents say he is abusing the procedure for political reasons. 

So opponents of a no-deal Brexit plan to try to stop it by introducing legislation today [Tuesday] forcing another delay until early next year. Corbyn is leading the effort, but it also includes smaller pro-EU parties and some Conservative Party members – including several prominent enough to have been Cabinet members. Johnson argues that such maneuvering weakens his last-minute bid for a better deal (which the EU, so far, has shown no indication of offering). If that doesn’t persuade wavering Conservative Party MPs, perhaps the threat that they won’t be able to run for re-election as party members will do the trick. 

Still, there is a good chance Johnson loses in Parliament. If that seems likely, his Plan B appears to be turning conventional wisdom on its head and seeking a general election in mid-October

For months, it has been Corbyn who has tried to tiptoe around Brexit as he maneuvers for a general election. Conservatives have assumed that facing voters with Brexit still hanging would be political suicide. But a few things have changed.

It’s best to be cautious with polls, but it’s also pretty clear that Corbyn is deeply unpopular. A YouGov poll released in mid-August showed that far more people would prefer to have no Brexit deal than have Corbyn become prime minister in order to oversee a second Brexit referendum. Corbyn was popular with young people in Britain’s 2017 election. Overall, however, many voters consider him to be too far left. Months of equivocating on Brexit have left serious disagreements within Labor, and the party also has been unable to extricate itself from an anti-Semitism scandal. 

Meanwhile, Johnson has presided over a bump in popularity for the Conservatives. In the words of the Economist: “People who have worked with Boris Johnson rarely praise him for his efficiency or integrity. His editors during his career as a journalist have variously described him as a “cavorting charlatan” and “epically unreliable.” Johnson’s decision to shut down Parliament isn’t popular, and Britain would be no less divided after an election. But six polls conducted in late July showed the Conservatives with a lead of between 1 and 10 percentage points over Labor, and more over smaller parties. 

Former Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Monday about the “elephant trap” of contesting an election before Brexit is decided. Blair predicted that voters who favor remaining in the EU would split among several parties, giving the Conservatives a comfortable majority. If he’s right, there is no way Corbyn survives after blowing such a golden opportunity. 

The United Kingdom might not survive, either, at least in its current form. Johnson comes across north of the border as the kind of entitled Englishman the Scots detest. His willingness to leave the EU without a deal is totally at odds with the view of most Scots – who now appear to want another independence referendum by 2021.

After Scotland’s first referendum in 2014, the vote to leave the EU in 2016, and one — probably two — votes for Parliament, it’s just what Britain needs. Another election.  

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 09/03/2019 - 09:53 am.

    Germany and France are afraid to compete against a free United Kingdom. The British folks have spoken and the want out of the stifling EU agreement. That is democracy working at its finest, not sure what the author is seeing.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/03/2019 - 12:53 pm.

      Germany and France won’t have to compete because the UK will no longer be competitive economically. Those countries will benefit as London will no longer be the financial center of Europe. The UK economy is going to shrink, while its former EU rivals will gain.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 09/03/2019 - 03:47 pm.

        UK pays more to the EU than it gets back. Britain’s will thrive under “Make Brits Great Again”. Johnson will be a hero to the working class.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/04/2019 - 08:57 am.

          I’m not sure if you understand what the EU does or how trade works generally.

          Being part of the EU means that goods can be sold to EU countries without tariffs and without border inspections. Leaving the EU means those benefits are gone. Good from France and Germany will be cheaper and easier to buy than than British goods because they will not be subject to tariffs and restrictions. Brexit makes the UK less competitive. Essentially, Brexit means that the UK has left the free market.

          The idea that the working class is going to benefit is absurd. Prices of everything that comes from Europe (which is a lot because the economies are so connected) are going to rise. Factories that depend on parts or that make parts used in Europe are going to close or leave. And as usual, its the working class that gets it the worst. The working class is going to be absolutely devastated.

          And Boris Johnson doesn’t care. His background is the furthest thing from working class. He’s just happy to use people who rely on simple slogans and who do ‘t understand economics and what they are actually voting for.


          • Submitted by joe smith on 09/04/2019 - 02:22 pm.

            Completely wrong. The UK will be able to make goods at a lesser price once they are out of the EU. The other to big manufacturing countries of France and Germany understand this, that is why they are fighting the move by Britain. The Left’s idea that UK is prospering under the stringent regulations of the EU is totally wrong. That is why the folks voted out of the EU. It was like here in the USA, did you want 1.8% GDP growth with 4 more years of Clinton/Obama policies or did you want a Trump economy? The folks here voted for Trump just like Brits voted for Brexii.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/04/2019 - 05:12 pm.

              Is that why British manufacturing output has hit a seven-year low?

              Are businesses delighted by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, even though the Commons Select Committee on Leaving the EU has concluded that no-deal “would be the most economically damaging outcome for the UK. The effect would be most severe in the North East and the West Midlands, and the chemical, retail, food and drink and manufacturing sectors would be hardest hit.”

              Yes, Boris Johnson is a British Trump. It starts with the ridiculous hair, and goes to his brash manner, monumental ego, and a blind desire to get his way, regardless of how destructive it might be.

              ll he has to do is marry an immigrant model for his third wife.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/05/2019 - 03:33 pm.

              That’s utter nonsense. Why would the British be able to make goods at a lower price? Anything that relies on European parts is going to cost more. And if it doesn’t now, why would it be cheaper after leaving the EU? That doesn’t make any sense at all. Its slogans, with no understanding about how trade or even economics even works.

              The economy under Trump is the same economy as the one Obama left him. Except that Trump’s trade policies are threatening to derail that economic success.

              • Submitted by joe smith on 09/10/2019 - 10:32 am.

                Just look at what happened with the UK’s fishing industry under EU regulations… Then add useless regulations to all industries and you will clearly see the U.K. will be able to produce more for less…. Simple regulation reductions helps businesses, look at Trump’s economy for proof. Only those who have bought into the Globalist elites nonsense that a huge bureaucracy in Brussels is good for Britains economy stick with this Pollyanna propaganda.

        • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 09/04/2019 - 11:41 am.

          Hero to the working class? I think it may be more accurate to say that Boris Johnson and Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg are serious contenders for (with a nod to Monty Python) Upper-Class Twit of the Year.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/05/2019 - 02:44 pm.

          MN pays more to the US than it gets back. You are telling me that Minnesotans would thrive if we seceded from the union? Is your calculation really that simplistic?

          This is just more cutting off the nose to spite the face.

    • Submitted by Brian Gandt on 09/03/2019 - 09:40 pm.

      “A free United Kingdom”. That’s a nice flair for the dramatic Joe!

      As far as democracy working at it’s finest, google “brexit lies compilation”. It appears to be democracy for certain, but not at its best.

  2. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/03/2019 - 12:18 pm.

    To add to the complications, Mr. Johnson has just lost his majority in Parliament,

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/03/2019 - 03:20 pm.

    I would like to believe that Corbyn’s leadership could not survive an election defeat, but I just don’t have that kind of confidence in the rationality of the British political system. This is, after all, the same system from which Boris Johnson emerged as prime minister. The temptation for so many Brits today must be to move to Scotland and then vote for independence.

  4. Submitted by Bill Davnie on 09/03/2019 - 08:48 pm.

    Will the Brexit voters stick with the Tories, or vote for the Brexit Party? If the latter, wouldn’t Labor be likely to come out ahead, as well as the Lib Dems?

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/04/2019 - 11:13 am.

      British politics is very unpredictable.This is compounded by the fact that the parties have been unable to present a clear choice to British voters. Both parties have their pro and anti Brexit factions. While the Tories right now are clearly identified as the Brexit party, Labour is led by Corbyn who is a euroskeptic.

      Electorally, Brexit reflects that famous rural urban split which seems to bedevil politics everywhere. Urban voters tend to oppose Brexit while rural voters tend to favor it.

  5. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/06/2019 - 10:29 am.

    One of the things that motivated the Brexit movement was that the EU was about to institute stricter rules on overseas financial holdings. All the toffs with secret bank accounts in less scrupulous countries got nervous.

    When I was in the UK recently, I met up with a number of friends, all but one of whom happen to be Remainers. They told me that the majority of the Brexit crowd were older white men who were angry that Britain isn’t like it used to be (what country is?) and blamed the EU. The one Brexit advocate I know personally fits this description, even though many of his complaints actually have nothing to do with the EU and mostly consist of complaints about how Britain has changed since his youth.

    The most important reason for resentment among the Remainers is that the vote was billed as an advisory referendum, not as a binding referendum. For that reason, many people who were just fine with the EU didn’t bother to vote, and Parliament was not obligated to act based on the results, especially after they learned of the complications that would ensue.

    The Brexit group promised that they would take the dues that Britain pays to the EU and divert them to the NHS, but out of the other side of their mouths, they are talking about privatizing the NHS, including selling off parts of it to United Health.

    An important complication is that Northern Ireland, which benefited from an open border with the Republic of Ireland, and Scotland, which enjoyed a great deal of economic aid from the EU, voted “remain.”

    There are worries that Brexit will revitalize the Scottish independence movement and give Northern Ireland reasons to consider uniting with the Republic, leading to the break-up of the United Kingdom.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/06/2019 - 10:37 am.

    I have to say that if you’re really interested in the Brit Brexit fiasco you should listen to the BBC. American reporters are having a difficult time with this. You would have known for instance that Parliament was going to block Johnson and his no-deal Brexit gambit, as well as his snap-election reaction.

    And I hate so say it, but as bizarre as the British systems looks to us, British conservatives have stood up where American’s have failed. When their buffoon in residence tries to drive their nation over a cliff they put the nation before their Party and rise to rebellion. It looks like their democracy may be less fragile than ours at the end of the day. Our Republicans will NEVER stand up to Trump the way Tories stood up to Johnson.

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