Brexit has happened. This is not a thread about the merits of the concept of Britain leaving the EU. However, there were many possible ways for Britain to leave the EU; this thread is about the particular approach to Brexit that this government has taken.
As of today, that approach seems to be:
Negotiate Withdrawal Agreement you say is great for Britain;
Sign said Withdrawal Agreement, while talking about how great it is for Britain
Ignore the people who say that the Withdrawal Agreement’s protocols on Northern Ireland raise difficult to resolve issues that will come back to bite us later.
Fight and win an election on the slogan “Get Brexit Done” with the promise that if your party gets a majority they will ratify this splendid Withdrawal Agreement which is great for Britain and proceed to build a trade deal with the EU which will also be great for Britain.
Keep ignoring those concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol.
Win said election with a healthy majority, each MP of which explicitly endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement as being great for Britain.
Ratify the WA in the minimum of time, insisting parliament doesn’t need to scrutinise it because it’s been thoroughly studied, digested, processed and understood.
Fail to negotiate a trade deal in part because of sticking points created by the Withdrawal Agreement.
Announce that this Withdrawal Agreement is a dastardly work of the EU which is terrible for Britain.
Prepare legislation which some say if enacted would break the WA and thus international law and also give other countries good reason to doubt the UK will ever keep it’s word.
Confirm that, yes, you are planning to break international law.
Re-iterate that the reason you are planning to break international law is because the Withdrawal Agreement you spent months trumpeting as a great deal for Britain is in fact bad for Britain and that it seems the protocol on Northern Ireland raises difficult to resolve issues that have come out of nowhere to bite us.
It’s not clear where we go from here. There’s good reason to believe the Lords won’t pass the UK Internal Markets bill. The EU has not walked away from the negotiations despite the clear provocation to do so. But given we only have to end of December to get a trade deal, the prospects for no-deal are looking stronger than I think anyone had hoped they would by this stage.
We’ve now got to the point where some rock solid Brexiters (e.g. Geoffrey Cox) are saying this approach is an embarrassment and a disgrace; the only thing the government has got going for it is that compared to say, day trips to Barnard Castle, passing a law which breaks a treaty doesn’t have the same visceral outrage effect on people who aren’t politics-obsessives. But it still leaves them as being either - or actually, both - dishonest and inept, just able to skate on it because there’s a lot of other shit for people to deal with right now.
Writing as someone who voted to Leave and still wishes to do so (but noting the first paragraph of the OP - not debating this here, just mentioning for context), I can’t disagree with anything posted so far. It’s all rather depressing and I do not support this government’s actions. I think a lot of blame has to go to the May government for pulling the trigger too early - it is increasingly obvious that this was a move for short-term political gain that has caused huge long-term damage, both to the UK and the Tory party. For the record, I haven’t voted Tory since 2015 as their incompetence (in some cases malicious) has become increasingly clear. I also acknowledge the underhandedness of the Leave campaign even though this hasn’t changed my personal beliefs/reasons for voting to leave. But I do think Boris has fooled the country twice, and won’t get away with it again.
Having said all that, I’m still optimistic that most of us will muddle through somehow - though the full human, political, and economic cost remains to be seen.
I think these two quotes get to the heart of a bigger problem that this whole episode has thrown up. Because as Gyrate rightly implies, the dishonesty, incompetence, corruption and law-breaking could only have been predicted by anybody who had the faintest understanding of who Boris Johnson was. That rules out most people, who only saw him being charmingly dishevelled on set-piece TV slots. But we have an entire class of political journalists whose job it is to know better and, they will tell you proudly, to hold power to account. Equally, the issues with NI and Withdrawal Agreement were well understood by people whose job it was to know this stuff, and flagged up at the time in expert circles. But neither Boris nor teh WA came under any kind of scrutiny in the popular news. The epitome of this was the Andrew Neil interview, widely touted as the most searing examination a party leader could undergo: Boris simply didn’t show up. The consequences of which were nil. I understand why his plan for the campaign was to avoid hard questions; what I’m not so clear on is why it was so easy for him. Any honest account of his career would reveal recklessness, incompetence, and laziness beyond measure.
I get that there is right-wing press and will even admit that there’s no compelling reason to outlaw such. But even they might be expected to do their readers the service of treating the role of PM as a serious one and applying a decent scrutiny to anyone standing for it. Instead, we got cheerleading.
As Dead Cat says, Boris likely won’t fool the country again. But that doesn’t get us very far: the Tory Party is very very good at knifing leaders who have become a liability; the question is will, Raab, or Sunak, or whoever takes his place suddenly become subject to the kind of journalistic scepticism it now turns out should have been applied to Boris?
Again, I think there’s a lot to unpack here in relation to just why pulling the trigger offered short-term political gain, who was demanding it be pulled, why their voice was so loud and why it was so hard for May or anyone else to make the case for taking the time to do the job right.
I’m trying to come up with some responses to all of that but most of them seem to boil down to the fact that maybe our whole system of government is fundamentally broken, and it may not be possible to ‘fix’ it.
Baker insists Johnson promised him that the Brexit withdrawal agreement would be changed after it was signed. Rather than tweaking the deal, Baker wants the PM to “repudiate the whole treaty on the basis of the EU’s bad faith”.
So Johnson is trying to fulfil his commitment to the ERG by ditching his commitments to his country and everyone else.
The ERG has always wanted a no-deal Brexit because they intend to profit financially from the chaos.
Brexit has always been about turning the UK into an unregulated tax haven and paradise for billionaires, bankers, hedge funds, multinational corporations, and the wealthy elite. Nothing else.
My position has always been that I was quite happy to be entertained by Johnson as a politician, provided he didn’t affect me too much. So, not being a Londoner, I looked on with amusement at his antics as Mayor of London, for example. Plus, he had the great advantage there of not being Ken Livingstone (more on this later vis a vis Corbyn), no doubt that was a large part of his success at that time. I never thought he would be a good choice for PM, though again, he was up against some pretty detestable opposition (e.g. Gove, Rees-Mogg, Hunt, Raab, Leadsom). Javid and Stewart would perhaps have made a good fist of things but were probably not considered experienced enough. But he almost got the top job unopposed.
The question here I suppose is why the mainstream media failed to do this. Of course, the objective of almost all media is getting the most eyes on screens/papers. And Boris is great for that (see also: Trump), almost incomparable in fact. The exception of course is the BBC (though perhaps less and less so these days) but it is constrained to appear unbiased, so they could hardly be rabidly polemical about it. I don’t believe those at the top of our media empires particularly care about Brexit one way or the other - I certainly don’t see how Brexit of any kind really benefits them. What does benefit them is ongoing controversy that they can shout about.
Anyway, without this scrutiny Boris was able to win a large majority because the public were/are by now fed up of Brexit and “getting Brext done” was a simple and popular slogan. He also had the great advantage of Corbyn as his chief rival, a man whose ideals inspired those already convinced of them but utterly failed with everyone else. Couple that with the anti-semitism accusations and the unions and he really stood no chance. And so some of the blame for where we are now must lie with those Labour party members who re-elected him as leader when he was patently unelectable as PM. His stance on Brexit obviously didn’t help, either - Labour should have just come out as anti-Brexit right from the start, it was their job to explain to marginalised people why Brexit would be bad for them and they singularly failed to do this.
While of course we can’t be complacent, we can perhaps hope that the circumstances surrounding the rise of Boris, as outlined above, were perhaps a one-off (maybe Trump, also) and the wheel will now turn back to something closer to normal - whatever that is. I don’t think anyone else will be able to get away with things as Boris has.
From my American POV … The system (US or UK) isn’t inherently broken. We’ve both simply let too much cynical clientelism fester for too long among our political class. Both countries are seemingly hell-bent on creating a free-fire zone for the 0.01%.
The “system” can’t prevent scoundrels in power when the political class is itself rotten. It’s up to the citizenry at large to demand quality politicians. If they can’t be arsed to do so they’ll reap what they’ve sown. Revising the system, even if done with magical wisdom, won’t solve the underlying cause: a democratic polity asleep (or anesthetized) at their switch.
That would make the Remain side happy. “Delay, delay, delay.” Eventually demographics would change to make Brexit impossible.
Boris Johnson thought he would lose the referendum. He was unprepared for victory, and that’s one reason he lost the leadership to Theresa May. She in turn found a way to exclude Johnson from Brexit. It didn’t work. Theresa May made her own mistakes as the Conservative Party became more Brexit-supporting. I saw a political commentator refer to the Conservative Party as the Conservative-Brexit Party after Johnson took over and I had to agree with that. (Johnson forced every Tory MP candidate to promise to support Brexit.)
But I think the bigger story is Labour. "I’ve never seen such political incompetence outside of Trump’s America in my lifetime. Corbyn was in a bind. Putting aside his lack of leadership qualities, he was an extreme left-winger, supported by the very left wing Momentum, but… he hates the EU. Momentum loved it (along with the large centre-left contingent). He couldn’t say he supported Brexit. The best he could do was sabotage the Remain side of the referendum, mostly done by his chief aide, Seamas Milne.
Article 50 contained a timebomb: 2 years after submission of the notification, unless a deal was agreed or both parties agreed to extend talks, the leaving country would automatically exit the EU. This meant that the clock would always be ticking and this would always be a bigger problem for the leaving country than for the EU.
In reality we can see the effect of this. A50 notification was submitted in March 2017 and following a couple of short extensions, Britain left on January 2020. We left with no trade deal, and a hastily cobbled together Withdrawal Agreement that is now falling apart. It’s worth remembering the shambles of Dec 2018, when May had what she thought was a signature-ready deal and had to cancel her press conference announcing it when her Northern Irish coalition partners read the detail at the 11th hour and forced a screeching U-turn. There was not a lot of time, and it was being wasted.
If you’re going to go into negotations that will be time-limited when you start, but not start until you pull the trigger, here’s what you do:
Decide what you want out of the negotiations
Decide a negotiating strategy
Get all your partners - especially those with veto power - signed up to both the above
Pull the trigger
What May did was:
Pull the trigger
Try to develop a negotiating strategy
Try to decide what the goal of the negotiations was
Fail to get partners on-side
At no point in the process could the UK say: This is what we want, this is how we’re getting it, everyone’s on board. In all three votes on May’s Withdrawal Agreement, the main opposition came not just from her own party, but from the pro-Brexit wing of her own party.
Taking the time to sort out the negotiating strategy and banging heads together until everyone agreed was the only sensible option and the fact that a combination of internal rebellion and press outrage made May think she needed to go early is, to use a term from political science, fucked up.