This is a #NotComics post. You have been warned.
Today I found myself cycling past Parliament to an unusual scene. For the last few months there have been protests both for and against Brexit, and a media circus assembled in St Stephens Square ready to interview politicians, Parliamentarians, protestors and pundits, all with the backdrop of the House Of Parliament and some bloke also called Stephen shouting ‘Stop Brexit’ at the top of his lungs – though in recent days, a fellow protestor with Tourette’s had amended that to ‘Biscuits For Brexit… Stop Biscuits’.
Three years ago, Britain voted, narrowly, to leave the European Union. The referendum had been agreed by Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron to pacify the Europhobic members of his party and to stop them defecting to vote for UKIP, who promised a referendum. He gained a majority in the General Election, rather than an expected Coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats and so was forced to go through with the policy, in the full and safe knowledge that Britain would vote to Remain.
Different bits of Britain voted differently, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted for Remain, most everywhere else voted Leave. The campaign was a raucous affair with Project Fear enabled on both sides. buses were covered in lies, punishment budgets were promised, and everyone did their best not to be racist. Despite much of the Leave side voting less for sovereignty, and more to keep the foreigners out. But some die-hard in the wool racists voting Remain because they reckoned to have European immigrants was better than those from South Asia, who would replace them. Man the late-night pub conversations I had.
Remain prophesied economic recession, unemployment, the collapse of the pound, and even World War. To date, we’ve only had the collapse of the pound – but then we haven’t actually left yet. But it seems not everyone who voted Leave realised just how much knowledge of maintained membership of the EU supported pound sterling on the international money markets. To be fair most who voted Remain didn’t realise that either but they liked being able to pop over the channel without fuss for some croissants and cheap booze, and maybe retire on the south coast of somewhere.
Leave prophesied that if we stayed the EU would bring in all sorts of federalist policies we’d have to go along with. Which doesn’t seem to have happened to other European countries since. They admitted there might be a recession but Britain would have a bright and breezy independent future, after arranging an economic arrangement with the rest of Europe that would be really easy to arrange. It has not been easy – but then we haven’t actually had a recession. Yet.
The battle was hard-fought, with dodgy online campaigns and funding being rechannelled all over the place. Channel Four made a drama about it starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who does a fine job in playing aloof over-clever psychopaths, as the Leave campaign leader Dominic Cummings. Who has now been made special adviser to the Prime Minister and is probably in charge of everything right now. More on him in a minute.
David Cameron also promised to fulfil whatever the result was as Prime Minister. When Leave won, he resigned instead. Theresa May, a Remainer, was voted by the Conservative Party as their leader after the Leaver candidates and MPs, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, stabbed each other in their respective backs and pulled out.
Since then the country has been dithering. Trying to arrange a deal with Europe that gets rid of free movement of travel in Europe, but also preserves the rights of EU citizens in Britain, and British citizens in the rest of EU, deal with Northern Ireland keeping an open border with the Republic Of Ireland despite about to be in two very different economic and legal zones, as the threat of a closed border would mean the repeal of the Good Friday Agreement which had (mostly) kept peace between Britain and Ireland since the nineties.
Mandate – more like a blind date
Theresa May threw a General Election to give herself a mandate to do whatever she wanted, and instead lost the majority that David Cameron had gained, and had to do a deal with the Northern Irish party the DUP to keep a majority, which also meant she couldn’t create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as a solution, because the DUP would not abide that.
Parliament threw out every solution Theresa May came up with until she eventually resigned. Boris Johnson got the majority of votes without a Michael Gove to get the way this time.
The Boris Effect
Ah yes, Boris Johnson. Lazy pundits have compared him to Donald Trump, but he is a very different beast. For a start, the Overton windows of the US and the UK are very different and transposing one system to the other rarely holds up. The Democrat Party is closer to the Conservative Party for example. The political policies of Boris Johnson, such as they are, are to the left of Hillary Clinton, for example. He is in favour on increased spending on socialised health care, in favour of same-gender marriage, abortion rights (of which he has taken advantage of in the past – though once quibbling over the price), increased spending on public transport, an increase in investment on cycling and greener travel solutions and the like. He’s also a polymath, fluent in several languages, a scholar of history and classics, and has a mastery of language. That he often appears as a bumbling buffoon is an act to disarm and charm. He famously ruffles his hair before going on camera, the equivalent of pushing your tie askew when on the pull, so that a prospective partner gets the chance to straighten it for you. That time he got stuck on a zip wire holding a couple of Union Jacks when he was London Mayor? You can’t get stuck on a zip wire. He requested that the operators stop him half-way across, waving his little flags and taking media attention away from David Cameron making a speech that day.
The only real comparison that stands up is that neither are ideologues, they are self-serving individuals, probably sociopaths, gaming the system, the media, the people to win, through a stew of personal charm, dedication and the belief that they represent the everyday person against politicians – despite being nothing of the sort.
Boris isn’t even a Europhobe. Recently descended from Turkish immigrants to the UK, and born in America, he famously wrote a list of Pros and Cons before deciding which side of the Referendum to support. He could have easily gone the other way. Indeed, given that he is and remains a public figure of fun courtesy of his media appearances on comedy shows over the years, he may well have swung the result single-handedly. But he has decided that British sovereignty is best and sees one of those halcyon futures as a result – currently denied him by events. But it remains the pot of gold at the end of the Union Jack-coloured rainbow.
When elected Prime Minister by the Conservative Party, he did so on a promise that we would leave the EU, as the Referendum stated, one way or another by the end of October. Even if that meant with no political, economic or diplomatic deal with the rest of the EU, all out for a hard Brexit. Which would overnight stop the business of companies operating over borders, stop imports and exports as the current channels aren’t built for inspecting everything that flows in and out, let alone imposing new tariffs, and promising lack of foods, medicine on the shelves, fishing rights removed, energy imports stopped, and travel curtailed. Economic collapse would follow unless something could be sorted, but it would also be a hammer blow for European industries, many of whom rely on the British market, such as the German car industry – who have a stranglehold over the German government.
All in an attempt to make the rest of Europe back down and give Britain a deal that also dealt with the Irish issue. It’s a massive bluff – but a bluff that is seems the Europeans are calling. Because, even though it would hurt them, the French and the Germans have had enough of all this. And won’t make a new deal.
Do Or Diet
But Boris made a promise to leave by hook or by crook, literally ‘do or die’, when elected. Inheriting Thresa May’s lack of majority in the House Of Commons, and with Europhile Conservative MPs defecting, dropping out, resigning and crossing the floor, he has had to get very tricky with this. Parliament does not have a majority of MPs to support a no-deal exit, only that the UK will only leave with a deal, that has still to be negotiated and would push Boris and the government past the deadline he committed to when elected.
He has called for a new General Election and for the Labour Party (who have their own issues that would need an entire other post) to support it. The Fixed-Term Act means we get a General Election every five years, but a two-thirds majority can call for one at any time. However, calling an election now could see Boris close Parliament for the campaign but extend that campaign period into November, when the UK will automatically leave the EU without a deal. And so the Labour Party did not bite for a General Election, the only time an opposition has ever not supported an Election being held.
And so as Parliament has voted that he must ask the EU for an extension of the deadline, his team has worked against this. He has fired Conservative Party MPs who voted to stop a no-deal Brexit. The unelected Dominic Cummings was appointed hs advisor, given the run of the Civil Service and Parliament, firing anyone seen as not loyal, and acting like the real man pulling the strings denied him since he won the referendum for Leave -despite not even being a member of the Conservative Party. While other right win pro-Brexiteers have seen their prominence increase such as Jacob Rees Mogg. And the whole thing looking more like a coup of entryists into the Conservative Party. And all the while there have been more resignations, including his own brother, Jo Johnson, a minister and MP, resigning to spend less time with his family, it seems. And the suggestion that Boris Johnson would just break the law and then it’s too late.
And so Boris has prorogued Parliament – officially closing it outside of the official schedule of Parliament – after secretly travelling to Balmoral to get royal assent from the Queen. Closing Parliament ahead of party conference season, a new Queen’s Speech and a re-opening of Parliament days before the Brexit deadline. Tricking the system into going through Brexit whether it wants to or not, playing judo with the British constitution. using its own weight against it. And giving us a result that technically the majority of the country voted for but in actuality a version of it that no one voted for and was promised it would never happen.
And everyone using the word ‘prorogue’, that two weeks ago, no one had ever heard of.
And so this morning, I find a Parliament without crowds, without politicians, with a media village not sure what to do or who to interview, facing a likely General Election. And unlike the Guy Fawkes mob of old who tried to blow up Parliament, this time it’s the government themselves who have done it.
That’s worth a cartoon, don’t you think?
And this was me, at Parliament, earlier today…