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All Eyes (And Ears) On Boris Johnson’s Mess In Britain

September 3, 2019

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At 2:00 A.M early Tuesday morning I had an earbud in as I was trying to fall asleep.  BBC radio was live and reporting (8:00 A.M. their time) the projected path of parliament which was to meet later in the day.   The story of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brexit, and the suspension of their parliament has consumed me for days on end.  Not only is this a most important and energized political story,  but it is a truly concerning economic one, too.  Add in the media component–how the story is told by the reporters–and I have been enthralled.

Hours later high-drama took a new path as a Tory member of parliament, Phillip Lee, defected from Johnson’s Conservative Party in a dramatic scene in the House of Commons.  Imagine the scene if you will.

As Johnson addressed the chamber, Lee silently crossed the room and took a seat with the opposition Liberal Democrats under a heavy rain of jeers and cheers from his fellow members of Parliament.

Then Johnson challenged opposition parties to back an early general election next month, in order to prevent a further delay to Brexit and take Britain out of the EU on October 31.

Members of parliament correctly defeated Johnson’s government on a motion paving the way for Brexit to be delayed until January 2020.

Twenty-one rebel Conservative MPs joined with the opposition to back the plan.

Wow!

There is a hard argument to make that Johnson’s suspension moves against parliament were not a blow to democracy, itself.  The action is more what one thinks of in a third-world country than in the place the Maga Carta originated.   But no one has accused Johnson of being careful about his actions or words.  Ever.

Foreign Affairs, in one of their articles months ago, pointed out the constitutional crisis that could develop.  With the news today it becomes clear that they are nearing such a time.

Johnson himself cannot call for new elections even if he no longer controls the Commons.  That is one of the complicated facts which now Britain must confront.  What is called the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act allows for new elections only if two-thirds of the House of Commons agree or if a majority backs a motion of no confidence but does not install a new government within 14 days. If the opposition can’t agree on a government and doesn’t want elections, Johnson remains a neutered prime minister.

That does not allow for a strong government, regardless of how one views Brexit. (This blogger is dumb-founded at how removed from logic British voters were in 2016.  Should democracy allow for a very bad referendum decision to come to fruition is another long pondering session for incoming freshmen in the dorm floor gatherings late at night.)  So what might be done?

The opposition might be guided by the words of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.  He said that Labor should not fall for a snap election.  Such a trap would propel the Tories with even higher numbers in parliament.  So instead, that would mean, keep the government, but limit what it can achieve when it comes to Brexit.

Under the British system, the government would be required to enact the will of the parliamentary majority.  This is certainly in uncharted constitutional territory.  But this shows what happens when angry voters cast uneducated votes.  Brexit was a humungous disaster.

There is no way to predict how this plays out in the hours and weeks ahead.  One thing is clear, however.  BBC radio will be playing late into the night for the foreseeable future in this home.

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