Will Brexit Happen Even If It Will Be a Disaster For Britain?

Boris Johnson became the British prime minister on July 24. Six weeks later the British Parliament voted to block Johnson from leaving the EU on October 31 without an agreement that was approved by Parliament. That vote, in which 21 members of Johnson’s Conservative Party voted with the opposition to prevent a no-deal Brexit, signaled that the nation’s old line establishment of professional politicians and capitalists was unwilling to tolerate the disaster of a sudden Brexit that Johnson was rushing toward in an effort to satisfy the popular forces that Johnson had so skillfully mobilized to attain power. 

Both the Conservatives and Labour had altered their process for choosing a leader in the past decade. Previously, all parties had followed the centuries-old practice of allowing their members of Parliament to select the party’s leader, who then became Prime Minister when that party commanded a majority in Parliament. However in an effort to build enthusiasm among its strongest supporters, both parties changed their process. Now dues-paying members of each party have the final choice for the Conservatives between two finalists selected by the party’s members of Parliament and for Labour from among however many candidates win the support of 15% of that party’s members of Parliament. In both parties this process has led to the selection of more ideologically focused leaders. For Labour, it is the committed socialist Jeremy Corbin. For the Conservatives, it is Boris Johnson who over his career has held a range of views but at least in recent years has decided that being associated with a hard line anti-EU and pro-Brexit viewpoint is most politically advantageous for him.

The pro-Brexit forces, led by Johnson and Nigel Farage, won the June 2016 referendum with a narrow 52% majority after a campaign based on a set of enticing lies. The biggest lie was that Britain would be able to keep £300 million a week that previously went to the EU and instead use it for the National Health Service. That number, which Johnson and Farage pulled out of thin air, ignored the almost equally large amount that the EU gave to Britain for a range of services and projects. The second lie was that Britain would remain in the EU until it would be able to negotiate an exit that preserved borderless trade and travel and protected he lack of border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Brexit advocates admitted immediately after the referendum, some with glee at the slickness of their deception, that the £300 million promise had been a false piece of campaign propaganda. The second lie was exposed when Prime Minister Theresa May invoked the EU charter’s Article 50 to set a firm deadline for withdrawal regardless of what deal, if any, was negotiated. The agreement Theresa May came up with did not meet the conditions Brexit advocates had promised during the referendum campaign, which is why it was voted down repeatedly by Parliament. 

What will happen next? It appears that Parliament has successfully blocked Johnson from leaving the EU. Johnson will call for a new election. He is hoping that the British ‘first past the post system,’ in which the candidate with the most votes in each constituency takes the seat even if that is a minority, will give the Conservatives a majority of seats as multiple candidates from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Greens split the opposition vote. Johnson very well may win that bet, gain a majority that allows him to withdraw from the EU and then serve a full term as Prime Minister. Conversely, the opposition parties could strike a strategic alliance in which weaker candidates in each district drop their candidacies and allow a single person to face the Conservative. British voters could (as happened in Canada in their last election) look at the poll results in the days before the election and cast most of their votes for whichever opposition party (most likely Labour) is strongest. 

Business now has to weigh the relative costs of a new Johnson-led Conservative majority that pulls Britain out of the EU versus a Corbin-led Labour that will try to raise taxes on the rich, expand social benefits, and perhaps renationalize some industries.

The Battle of Brexit: The House of Commons vs Boris Johnson
Kira Godovanyuk
The ball is now in Boris Johnson’s court. He is preparing Brexit Plan B intended to force the EU to kick Britain out of Europe, and is looking for loopholes in both British and European laws. However, divorce from the EU can become a fact on October 31 by default unless the required EU procedures are respected. In particular, all EU member states must vote for a new delay.

That choice is similar to what the rich face in the US between supporting an unstable and socially reactionary Donald Trump who is disrupting global trade relationships for a second term or tolerating a moderately leftist Democratic presidency. Such dismal choices (from the point of view of the rich) should, but probably won’t, lead capitalists to reconsider their decades-long support for neoliberalism, which has stoked popular anger through policies that have led to stagnant incomes, falling life expectancy, and an ever more decrepit public sector. Such misery in turn heightens divisions along racial religious and ethnic lines.
Brexit: A Tip of an Iceberg Crumbling Under the Tides of Globalisation
Rein Müllerson
How Britain will pass this revolutionary moment in its history will depend not only on British politicians and its electorate but also from the will and wisdom of European leaders. Meddling through as usual is not any more good enough. These are times for visionaries with will-power. Where are they? Where do they come from?  

Facing dismal futures with little hope of help from their governments, Britons and Americans then turn to fanciful solutions like Brexit or building a wall along the US border with Mexico which seem more feasible and worthwhile than the vague promises of a revitalized economy or modest social programs presented by less extreme conservatives like Cameron or May in Britain or Romney and Bush in the US. Meanwhile, recent nominally leftist governments like those of Obama and Clinton or Blair and Brown offered too little to convince voters that a turn away from either moderate or extreme conservatism would improve ordinary peoples’ lives. 

Brexit is a symptom not a cause of the political cynicism and paralysis that is afflicting so many Western democracies. The catastrophic consequences of a hard Brexit could discredit Johnson and the Conservatives, although perhaps only after the next election. Unless and until the left gains the courage and political power to offer a real alternative to neoliberalism, we can expect that after a time out of power the right will be back in power in both Britain and the US in perhaps an even more vicious and destructive version. Certainly the regression from Bush to Trump and Cameron to Johnson does not give us hope.

Boris Johnson’s Exit Strategy from the European Union
David Lane
If the vote of no confidence in the Johnson government fails, then it is likely that Boris Johnson and the Parliamentary leadership will call an election but only after the exit of the UK from the EU. The Johnson campaign will adopt the strategy of pinning the Conservative Party to a ‘People versus Politicians’ platform.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.