Johnson’s double offensive

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he was suspending parliament from mid-September. After the summer holidays, the deputies will sit for only a week from September 3, and then return to work only after October 14 – just 17 days before the appointed date for Britain to leave the EU.

In total, Johnson suspended the work of the British Parliament for five whole weeks – this has not happened for 40 years. At the same time, the prime minister developed a vigorous activity in foreign policy – he is negotiating with the leaders of the largest EU countries, hoping to negotiate with them directly, through the head of a clumsy Brussels.

Ideally, a double offensive on the internal and external fronts should allow Johnson to withdraw Britain from the EU on its terms. And if this does not work out, then at least help to implement the minimum program – to keep him the post of prime minister.

Johnson’s circumstances

Having become Prime Minister, Boris Johnson put forward fundamentally new requirements to the European Union. He stated that he was ready to sign an agreement on Brexit, but with one condition: Brussels would have to abandon the backstop mechanism regarding Northern Ireland.

Backstop is insurance that guarantees the transparency of the Irish border if Britain and the EU are unable to decide how to do this in the course of trade negotiations, which will last until at least 2021. Most of all, “Dubstop” insists on Dublin, for whom the mechanism is a guarantee that Brexit will not weaken the country’s ties with Northern Ireland.

Johnson considers backstop “undemocratic.” Because of it, Northern Ireland, and therefore Britain, will have to reckon with the pan-European rules, without having the right to vote in the structures of the Union. Instead of backstop, Johnson promises to find some other, “creative” solution to the border problem.

So far, Johnson’s appeals have not led to concrete shifts in negotiations with the Europeans. The British prime minister was able to establish a direct dialogue with Merkel and Macron, having jumped over the head of the European Commission, but in Brussels and in European capitals they continue to insist: Brexit is unacceptable for the Irish border without pre-agreed insurance.

However, Johnson is not confused by the intransigence of the EU. He repeats the mantra about the importance of the deal, but at the same time emphasizes that he is ready to leave the European Union without an agreement. And this is not a matter of his personal intransigence – simply, without major changes to the deal, the prime minister has no chance of getting her approval by the British parliament.

Earlier, deputies thrice rejected Brexit on EU-proposed terms, which included back-stop. Both the opposition and the harsh Eurosceptics in the ruling Conservative Party opposed. Since then, the situation has not changed for the better, so Johnson will still not be able to save the deal with cosmetic changes.

Even if the EU agrees to a back-stop adjustment (for example, limiting its validity), Eurosceptic MPs will block the agreement for the fourth time. This will put an end to Johnson’s career and collapse the ratings of conservatives – hardly the perfect scenario for the British prime minister. Therefore, he has to act much sharper and riskier.

Johnson’s Goals

Johnson immediately decided that it was pointless to talk with the European Commission. Britain even stopped sending diplomats to most meetings at the EU level – anyway, no concessions could be achieved there. Instead, Johnson is trying to force the leaders of the largest EU countries to intervene – to transfer negotiations from autopilot to manual mode.

Last week, the British prime minister met first with Angela Merkel, then with Emmanuel Macron. Then he discussed Brexit with them again – at the G7 summit in French Biarritz.

Johnson is aware that his attempts to push Europeans will work only under two conditions. First, Britain should be really ready to leave the EU without a deal: have the appropriate infrastructure, funds to compensate for the business, and so on. Otherwise, the EU will continue to hope that, having flown out of the Union without an agreement, London, crushed by costs and flexible, will return to the negotiating table.

The second condition is even more important. Johnson must prove that he is the only British politician with whom the EU can negotiate. That is, to show that Brussels cannot simply sit out the conservatives and wait for more pro-European forces to come to power in Britain.

Therefore, Johnson diligently strengthens his domestic political position. His government, in essence, operates in a campaign mode, the central message of which is the need for Brexit without a deal. Johnson in this story is a defender of the will of the people who will not let Europeans fool themselves and at all costs will embody the results of the Brexit referendum. Thus, he hopes to return to the conservatives the voices of those Britons who voted for the Brexit Nigel Faraj Party in the European Parliament elections.

At the same time, Johnson makes bright promises to improve the situation inside the country. Constantly announces an increase in government spending, launches infrastructure projects, and makes proposals to combat crime. Here Johnson’s goal is the British outside the conservative nuclear electorate, including leftists.

Johnson’s zeal is bearing fruit: during his premiership, the rating of conservatives increased by 10 points, to 33%, which returned them to first place in the polls. But the opposition’s votes are almost evenly divided between Labor (21%) and Liberal Democrats (19%) – this is not the best situation in the majority electoral system.

Closed for five weeks, the parliament will add opposition difficulties. And the opening of his new session on October 14, where Queen Elizabeth II will identify government priorities, will be the culmination of Johnson’s plan. The prime minister’s populist measures will be spelled out by the monarch. This should demonstrate the stability of Johnson’s position before the decisive EU summit, which is scheduled for October 17.

Johnson Bet

Strengthening Johnson’s position within Britain could change the alignment in the European Union. They will understand that the Tory leader is for a long time, and the risk of chaotic Brexit will become tangible for the EU.

At the same time, economic costs are only one of the problems associated with Brexit without a deal. Difficulties will also arise with the very Irish border that the EU so diligently defends in the negotiations. Paradoxically, the stubbornness of the European Union in maintaining the transparency of the border may cause it to fail.

If Brexit passes without a deal, a tough border may well appear between Ireland. Then the question arises: why did the EU so persistently insist on the need for a border insurance plan after 2021, if in the end a tight border appeared already in 2019?

Even if a tight border can be avoided, questions will still arise for Brussels. After all, it turns out that the border could be kept transparent without back-stop. That is, Johnson was right, and the EU just played political games and played out before Britain left the Union without a deal.

With these risks, the EU may well make new concessions: make an unexpected decision at an emergency summit five minutes before midnight to avoid Britain leaving without a deal. For example, it will postpone the decision on the Irish border until the second phase of negotiations, which will affect trade. Or radically reduce the requirements for Britain, provided for “backstop.” In the end, even the EU’s agreement to conclude several small deals with Britain instead of one comprehensive deal will already soften the divorce between London and Brussels.

The conclusion of an agreement with the European Union at the last moment, among other things, will facilitate its ratification in the British Parliament. Deputies will no longer have the opportunity to simply delay the decision, and they will have to choose between Brexit Johnson and Brexit without a deal.

Of course, Johnson’s bet may not work. Either the European Union or the British Parliament may refuse to concede. But then the matter will most likely end in new elections, and there Johnson’s tough stance in negotiations with Brussels will still pay off. Voting in the roles of a patriot and a fighter with the elites is much more preferable than offering the parliament a deliberately losing deal on Brexit and finally ruining the reputation of conservatives.

Parliamentary failure

One can disagree with Johnson’s logic in negotiations with Brussels, but his behavior can hardly be called extravagant or inadequate. In fact, Johnson’s course is now uncontested. Opportunities for Brexit with the deal are now simply gone.

The agreement on the terms of the EU rejects the British Parliament. And the option for which the deputies could vote is unacceptable for the EU. The only thing that remains for Johnson is to try to expand the corridor for maneuver, putting maximum pressure on both the European Union and deputies.

Not only that, Johnson at least has some kind of strategy. What can not be said about the British deputies. Most of them consider Brexit to be unacceptable without a deal, but they are not even able to formulate roughly what form it should be implemented in.

With the advent of prominent populist politicians like Johnson or Trump, many started talking about the threat of usurpation of power. In part, such worries are justified, but an equally important cause of the current crisis is the inefficiency of institutions of representative democracy. In the case of Brexit, the responsibility of British MPs for paralysis is no less than that of the government. And if British lawmakers really think Johnson’s policies are risky, they should approve a back-stop deal, as Brussels and former British Prime Minister Theresa May had proposed.


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