Bluff and bluster don’t pay. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is learning it the hard way. Or rather the British MPs are dinning it in his ears despite his stubborn refusal to pay heed. His blunderbuss manner, rude style, foul language, and generally mocking tone cannot overcome the impasse in Parliament. If his predecessor, Theresa May, a dignified and consensus politician unlike him, was rebuffed by the Commons, including a few members from her own Conservative Party, there was no hope in hell for the Blond Beast, as he is mockingly called by the British media, to push it through. In fact, he was not interested in pushing it through the House as much as to bypass it. In a long time in British parliamentary history here was a prime minister who wanted to present it with a fait accompli, proroguing it for five weeks in order to leave the MPs no time to debate and discuss his solution to the Brexit conundrum. He just thought it would be a good idea for Britain to walk out of the European Union without a deal on October 31. No-deal was the only deal he had for Britons but Britain was not ready for it. As many as 21 of his own party MPs voted for a resolution making it legally binding not to leave the EU without a deal. Among them were former senior ministers, Winston Churchill’s grandson, and his own brother, who torn between family loyalty and national interest, chose the latter. Johnson behaved as if the rejection by the Parliament was of no consequence. Instead, he promptly expelled all 21 rebel MPs from the party, further reducing the ruling party which was already in minority. A day later, another senior minister quit the Cabinet, protesting that Johnson had made no effort to renegotiate the deal while giving a contrary impression to the people. A key element in the Johnson strategy was to force an election before October 17, win it on his populist no-deal Brexit, involving a denial of the compensatory payment of billions to the EU, and then oblige the new parliament to approve his plan. His confidence stemmed from his belief that he could gather under his leadership all the Brexiteers, including those from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, while the Remainers and those for an orderly Brexit would be split into various factions. Besides, he trusted himself to hoodwink the country with his demagoguery which the Opposition Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was no match for. Also, voting for Corbyn posed a real dilemma for Remainers since his ultra left agenda, including re-nationalization of public utilities, was intensely disliked by them. Not unlike the Conservative Party, Brexit had divided every party. Town and city were divided. The generally well-off were for remaining in the 28-member Union. The relatively poorer sections and the older people talked of recovering their lost independence, their sovereignty.
However, leaving the EU without a deal is bound to prove socially and economically disastrous, disrupting livelihoods, causing shortages of food, medicines, etc. Besides, industry and commerce would take a big hit and London’s numero uno place as a financial centre in the world was unlikely to survive for long. Brexit’s pains are real while gains seem mostly illusory. Britain did not join the EU currency union. And all that talk of entering into free-trade agreements with independent nations, such as the US and India, makes little sense when you want willfully and, shall we say, most arbitrarily, want to quit the biggest trading block in the world with 28-member nation-States. In short, Brexit was a misconceived idea, echoing the dying dream of Britons still pining for the Great Empire which the march of time had snatched away from them. If Brexit happens, it will be a matter of time before Scotland goes its own separate way. And it might end up disturbing peace in Northern Ireland. The Irish backstop, the main sticking point, guarantees free movement of goods and services, as now, between the EU and North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Brexiteers reckon, not without reason, it would keep the UK as part of the customs union and thus defeat the very objective of Brexit and make free-trade agreements with other nations impossible. In other words, even Johnson’s Trump-like antics and bluster cannot change the hard reality of geography standing in the way of a clear Brexit. In fact, the immediate challenge for him is to muster a majority in Parliament when it meets later next month. Unable to force an election before October 31, his only doable option is to seek another extension from the EU and then enter into fresh negotiations.