Our story so far involves the three worst prime ministers in recent British history:
- David Cameron, who cravenly agreed to hold the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU (bad enough) and then authorized a proposition which failed to include a sensible ‘check-step’ of a confirmatory vote once a deal had been negotiated, likely because the Tories were so smug about winning. Oops.
- Theresa May, brought in to implement the referendum decision in which she did not believe, who lacked the courage to admit that there was no good deal and bumbled and mumbled along for 2 ½ years, when she finally gave up, only to be succeeded last year by…
- Boris Johnson, the ill-combed Trumpian knock-off, who promised to “get Brexit done;” which he did by dissembling, flip-flopping, and de facto ceding Northern Ireland to the Irish and breaking up the “United" Kingdom.
The deal that Boris finally signed and ramrodded through Parliament allowed for Brexit to be declared “done”, leaving aside the implementation and writing of the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU (40+% of British trade). Johnson’s bombastic and confrontational negotiating style (also paralleling his American confrere) has, unsurprisingly, left the EU cold, despite his raffish charm and occasional latinisms.
The upshot is that with just over three months to go until implementation day, there is no prospect of a deal; with dire consequences for British consumers and companies, threats to the structure of Irish/Northern Irish society and economy, and aggravating disruptions for the Europeans.
So, Boris and gang decide to force the issue, in a manner reminiscent of a kidnapper telling the police hostage negotiator “Give me what I want or I’ll shoot,” all while holding the gun to his own head. This month they announced their implementation plan which would entail reneging on the deal (i.e. signed treaty) with the EU; an act which (as a minister confessed to Parliament) would constitute a breach of international law.
The exasperated Europeans would be well justified in letting the Brits go [hang] themselves. It’s unlikely the Tories in Parliament will stand up to Boris any more than Mitch McConnell and friends have stood up for traditional Republican values trampled by Trump. So much for the “rule of law” from the “mother of parliaments.” We will have to see how Boris extracts himself from this one. It can’t end well; it’s either bad or worse.
The “rule of law” is an essential trope advanced to preserve public order, usually for the benefit of the incumbent power structure. It is no wonder that is has been central to British culture for centuries, nor that Britain promoted the concept internationally as part of its global dominance in the 18C-20C. It is a mark of Britain’s decline that such a tenet has become expendable.
I am reminded of Churchill’s remarks 80 years ago, facing the Battle of Britain and the Nazi’s likely invasion of the island, in which he said: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’"
Well, 1940 was; even if the Empire collapsed a generation later. Now the flip-side. The Brits’ inability to come to terms with their diminished status/power/role resulting from that collapse fed the nihilism that led to Brexit and to this “unfinest” hour of imperial history. Soon it will become apparent that Brexit will be a classic, the stupidest decision taken by a major power since Hitler gratuitously declared war on the US in 1941 (now, that would be an interesting competition!). Britain’s slide from global hegemony to “special relationship,” to also-ran is not yet complete, but it was disguised by being integrated into Europe. Alas, a collapsed soufflé will not win any prizes on the Baking Contest.