Johnson’s Gambit


Despite Johnson’s talk about maintaining a strong and friendly relationship to the EU, in the event of a no-deal exit, the trajectory toward trade conflicts and political hostility with the EU is almost inevitable. Although it was Greenland that Donald Trump proposed to buy from Denmark earlier this month, Britain is a far more suitable, desperate and profitable candidate. Indeed, a No-Deal Brexit will entail much more direct forms of US influence and control over Britain.

-by Heiko Khoo



Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the proroguing or suspension of parliament, in order to thwart attempts by opposition MPs to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 Oct. The Queen granted his request. This means that Parliament now has a very narrow window to pass a law that might force Johnson to ask the EU for another Brexit delay. Johnson’s manoeuvre enraged the majority of MPs, who are opposed to leaving the EU without a deal. Protests have been called for 3 September. In these circumstances, even if the EU were to agree a compromise with Johnson on the post-Brexit Irish border arrangements, it is unlikely such a deal could be agreed by 31 Oct.


Since being elected Tory leader and thereby assuming the role of Prime Minister, Johnson adopted an intransigent position towards the EU and parliament. He has also announced a raft of policy proposals - to crackdown on crime, increase police numbers, modernize the Internet infrastructure, and increase school budgets. This indicates that Johnson is preparing for an imminent General Election.


The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn had hoped to gain the initiative by calling a no-confidence vote to form a new government, delay Brexit, and force a General Election. But Liberal MPs and Tory rebels opposed to Johnson’s maneuvers to sideline parliament, are so virulently hostile to Corbyn that although a no-confidence vote may win a majority, the subsequent formation of a temporary Corbyn-led caretaker government seems unlikely.


Johnson presides over an unruly Tory party. The majority of its MPs want to remain closely tied to the EU, but party members elected Johnson precisely because he said he would leave the EU on 31 Oct “do or die”. His bellicose stance is driven by the victory of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party at the EU elections in May, when they took 31.6 per cent of the vote compared to 9.1 per cent for the Tories. By donning Farage’s “hard Brexit” mantle, Johnson aims to reverse that hemorrhage of Tory support through calling a “people versus parliament” election, to be held after Brexit has happened. In this rhetoric, the “people” refers to the 17.4 million who voted to leave the EU in the 2015 referendum, and “parliament” means those MPs who campaigned to remain in the EU at that time, and who reject a no-deal Brexit.


Indeed, it was the virulent opposition of the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Tory’s ally in parliament, who guaranteed that the deal negotiated with the EU by Theresa May was rejected on three occasions. It was the DUP and the right wing European Research Group (a lobby inside the Tory party) who scuppered the deal - not those MPs who voted remain. It was conflict inside the Tory party that led to the current political paralysis, a fact that Johnson wants the public to forget.


In the light of this, it is Nigel Farage’s Brexit party with no MPs in Westminster that is setting Johnson’s agenda. Farage would be happy to make an electoral pact with Johnson, in which Tory candidates who support a no-deal Brexit on 31 Oct will be endorsed, while the Brexit party will stand against any Tory candidate who supports a deal with the EU.


If Johnson fails to enforce a no-deal Brexit on 31 Oct, the Tory party will face a catastrophic

electoral collapse, as an insurgent Brexit Party will crush it. So, Nigel Farage is the tail wagging the dog. In fact, the entire Brexit crisis is a product of the Tory party’s long-term internal divisions over Europe. This issue has festered and erupted again and again over the last 40 years, claiming the scalps of one Tory leader after another. However, now Brexit has caused the crisis inside the Tory party to become a general constitutional crisis.


In an insightful TV documentary made by the former Tory Minister Michael Portillo, party grandees explain that the Tory party is the oldest and most successful ruling party in the world. It ruled before the majority had the right to vote, and it crystalized its power and philosophy in the period of an expanding British Empire. However, as the Empire ended in the wake of two world wars, the British ruling class, its elite school networks, its aristocracy, its landowners, its bankers, and its large capitalist barons, could no longer rule in the old way. And during the same period popular reverence and respect for the elite faded away.

After WWII British capitalism was forced to submit to the sway of US global power. Britain became the staunchest US ally and pursued economic policies which came to be known as the Anglo-American variety of capitalism, in which “free markets” act as the guiding star. Indeed, it was Britain that pushed the EU to adopt such a “neo-liberal” approach. Johnson hopes that a post Brexit Britain will find new trading partners, but this will no doubt focus on reviving influence over its former colonies.


Despite Johnson’s talk about maintaining a strong and friendly relationship to the EU, in the event of a no-deal exit, the trajectory toward trade conflicts and political hostility with the EU is almost inevitable. Although it was Greenland that Donald Trump proposed to buy from Denmark earlier this month, Britain is a far more suitable, desperate and profitable candidate. Indeed, a No-Deal Brexit will entail much more direct forms of US influence and control over Britain.


Heiko Khoo is London based senior journalist.

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