Theresa May said very clearly that we would be leaving in March but we didn’t; Boris Johnson says very clearly that we will now leave in October. Will we?
There was a clear commitment by the Conservatives to implement what the people decided in the 2016 Referendum. Although many voted to remain the people overall clearly decided to leave. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, repeatedly stated, “I’ve been very clear”; and indeed she was on many, many occasions about leaving the EU on 29th March 2019, leaving the Customs Union and Single Market and escaping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. None of this happened and none of it was in hand during the eight-month extension to Article 50 which she requested at the last minute.
May blamed an unwillingness to compromise but her compromises were not in line with her clear commitments, neither for the interim (Transition Period) nor necessarily for the long term since this was not negotiated and a clearly indefinite delay was included in the agreement she accepted from the EU. We say “accepted” because the EU refused to compromise on anything whatsoever from its one-sided mandate to its negotiators. May however blamed her colleagues in Parliament.
Boris Johnson made a speech on entering number 10 Downing Street that was very clear indeed: the UK will leave the EU at the end of October 2019 under any circumstances, regardless of whether compromises and deals can be agreed or not. Will, and indeed can, he keep that promise? In the face of an intransigent EU, a riven party and a divided Parliament, unchanged from May’s days what can he do differently?
To begin with he has appointed a Cabinet that seems united in its determination to implement what its leader has unequivocally promised. This is in contrast to his predecessor’s decision to appoint three Remainers to every one Leave-supporting minister. In fact the balance is quite close but ministers re-appointed or newly appointed who voted to remain in the 2016 Referendum have all explicitly stated they will agree to leaving with no deal, if necessary, at the end of the extension period, It is then practically, technically and constitutionally possible to leave regardless of any agreement with the EU unless Parliament wins a vote of no confidence in the Government. That would force an election unless Tory deserters joined other parties to form a majority coalition and would mean Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister unless Labour MPs also staged a revolt. The risk of this happening is probably too great to attract many Tories, and there would be some Labour deserters now that their party officially supports Remain.
This is how May made a “dog’s breakfast” of Brexit. She split responsibilities and then undermined the Leave-supporting ministers supposedly in charge by appointing Civil Service negotiators and taking the advice of her senior Remain-supporting ministers. Any commitment she may have felt to doing what she so clearly stated she would do seeped away. She triggered the two-year Article 50 period for arranging to leave with scarcely a plan to leave under any circumstance (this was probably to satisfy members at the upcoming Conservative Party Conference). She permitted her Europhile Chancellor to withhold money to prepare for leaving, so giving the EU the upper hand. She agreed with the absurd demand that no discussions towards agreeing a trade deal could be held with the EU until a divorce payment was agreed plus two other demands – a blind bid.
One of those demands, the Irish border issue, ultimately caused the collapse of any deal she could muster support for in her party or Parliament. Naturally the EU refused to work with the UK to devise acceptable arrangements, yet there was a clear precedent in its numerous agreements with Switzerland (it is now starting to shut them down because of the obvious hypocrisy). The Irish Government has the dubious honour of behaving like ‘populists’, since a large majority of Irish citizens wish the island of Ireland to be united under the flag of Eire; this transgresses the Belfast Agreement but the masters of propaganda in the EU have reversed the supposed culpability.
May then introduced her Chequers Deal and later the EU’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement, both of which fail the test of leaving the EU and its institutions’ control over the UK, which she clearly stated and repeated throughout her tortured rule that she would do. As a parting act of revenge she allowed a bill to be put before Parliament despite being warned by the party Whips that it would be amended in such a way as to deny her ‘usurper’ his normal power to prorogue Parliament, so preventing that method of passing the deadline for leaving, regardless of reaching any form of agreement.
We doubt that Theresa May set out deliberately to deceive but as a pretty clueless minister and Prime Minister she has allowed herself to be misled into misleading us. She is a diligent constituency MP who rose to the level of her own incompetence, in accordance with the Peter Principle.
In 2010, Jeremy Clarkson, presenting an edition of Top Gear said to Johnson, “Most politicians, as far as I can work out, are pretty incompetent, and then have a veneer of competence. You do seem to do it the other way round.” Johnson, replied: “You can’t rule out the possibility that beneath the elaborately constructed veneer of a blithering idiot, there lurks an, er, blithering idiot.” We have said previously that Johnson is a Fool, in the Shakespearean sense. Now we wonder whether this is his Prince Hal moment (Henry IV, Part II*) in which he finally casts off his juvenile persona to adopt that of a Leader.
* “Presume not that I am the thing I was.”