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Brexit: Prime Minister Johnson`s Strategy

(Version anglaise seulement)
B.A. Sciences poliitques, membre de®

The British nation has been dealing with the Brexit issue since 2016. British people are fed up of hearing the ¨Brexit¨ word on a daily basis. Brexit divides families and friends; everyone has an opinion on the issue. Besides, Brexit also has triggered a constitutional crisis and Brexit pushed the executive branch and the legislative branch to be on a different page. The new Prime Minister does not work with MPs to find common grounds on Brexit. The head of government does not want to respect the will of Parliament. For instance, Parliament enacted the Benn Act to compel the Prime Minister to ask Brussels for a Brexit delay. In sum, Boris Johnson fails to unite the nation with his Brexit deal. The U.K. is still deeply divided over the Brexit issue. Hard Brexiteers do not agree with soft Brexiteers who prefer that the country keeps some free trade and a border with limited restrictions with the European Union. Northern Ireland unionists want that their British region leaves the European Union with the rest of the United Kingdom while the European Union is concerned that Brexit does not respect the Good Friday Agreement. Boris Johnson introduced a withdrawal agreement to Parliament which gives a veto power to the Northern Ireland Assembly to protect the Good Friday Agreement, but the unionist Democratic Union Party is strongly against Johnson`s deal. Prime Minister Johnson strongly believes in Brexit and he thinks that the best way to get Brexit done is to have a general election in order to get more Conservative MPs elected to support his Brexit plan. Johnson wants to get his deal ratified by Parliament. In short, Johnson desperately needs to get a majority government to make his Brexit plan happen.

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                To begin with, Prime Minister Johnson successfully got a Brexit deal with the European Union in October 2019. Brussels was confident that British MPs support the deal because it considers the new deal is in the best interest of the E.U. and the U.K. The new agreement is very similar to May`s deal that has been rejected several times by the Westminster Parliament. Under the new agreement, Britain will have to pay £39billion (CDN $66 billion) to the European Union. The deal reveals that Northern Ireland would remain in the U.K. customs territory. Moreover, Northern Ireland will be part of all British trade agreements with the rest of the World. Still, E.U. tariffs and the Value Added Tax would apply to Northern Ireland only on goods, but not on services. These initiatives for Northern Ireland would prevent any hard border from separating the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. According to Johnson`s deal, the Northern Ireland Assembly, known as Stormont, would have to vote every 4 year to support the deal. BBC news reveals on October 18th, 2019 that the new deal ¨would involve Stormont giving ongoing consent to any special arrangements for Northern Ireland via a straight majority.¨ Besides, there is no longer any binding commitment on environmental standards and employment rights. However, Johnson`s deal is very similar to May`s deal. In short, the main changes of the new deal are: there is a Northern Ireland protocol, the Irish backstop is gone and the United Kingdom can get a looser trade deal with the European Union.

                Still, Johnson`s deal still has not been approved by the Commons because the British legislature enacted an amendment to allow more time to study the new withdrawal agreement. Besides, the Democratic Unionist Party strongly opposes the deal because it considers that the Johnson`s deal is not in Northern Ireland`s best interests. Democratic Union Party Leader Arlene Foster said: ¨While some progress has been made in recognising the issue of consent, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will have no say on whether we enter these arrangements in the first instance, and the Government has departed from the principle that these arrangements must be subject to the consent of both unionists and nationalists.¨ Besides, the unionist leader thinks that the deal is not good for Northern Ireland because the deal does not favour trade. Northern Ireland`s loyalists feel they have been betrayed by the Johnson government because they feel the deal separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the Kingdom by making a border in the Irish Sea. Thus, Northern Irish unionists fear that Johnson`s deal could get Northern Ireland closer to the Republic of Ireland rather than remaining more integrated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (U.K).

                Therefore, British MPs delayed the votes on Johnson`s deal with the Letwin amendment which requires the Westminster Parliament to pass all necessary pieces of legislation before the House of Commons votes on Johnson`s deal. Oliver Letwin describes his Bill as an insurance policy to prevent the U.K. from crashing out of the European Union without a deal on October 31st, 2019. This amendment successfully passed by 322 votes in favour and 306 votes against. Therefore, Boris Johnson fails to get his deal approved by Parliament which means that the Brexit process is slowed down by lawmakers. Parliament could not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque by approving the deal without lawmakers scrutinize the new treaty between the E.U. and the U.K.

                Moreover, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon strongly opposes Johnson`s deal because the separatist leader thinks that the deal does not respect the will of the Scottish people. The Scottish First Minister told the media: ¨It cannot be right that Scotland alone is facing an outcome it did not vote for — that is democratically unacceptable and makes a mockery of claims that the U.K. is in any way a partnership of equals.¨ The separatist SNP leader thinks that Scotland is better off in the European Union. We can expect that the separatist Scottish National Party uses Brexit as a promotional tool for the Scottish separation from the rest of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, this would have been a real surprise that the SNP supports any Brexit agreement between London and Brussels. In sum, the SNP wants that the United Kingdom remains part of the European Union.

                As well, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is not in favour of the Johnson`s deal because the deal creates a customs union border down the Irish Sea and the deal could lead Britain to a deregulated society. In short, the U.K. would no longer have to comply with some of E.U. progressive labour and environmental regulations. Besides, the deal could costs thousands of jobs. The Labour Party fears that the deal triggers ¨a race to the bottom¨ with regard to labour standards and environmental protection. Thus, the Labour Party is concerned that the new deal would lead the nation to a more Conservative Britain. Jeremy Corbyn suggests that the deal could be approved by the people through a national referendum. Jeremy Corbyn, Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition Leader, thinks the only way to settle Brexit is to have a second referendum on the issue with the options to remain and to leave the European Union.

                                As a result, Prime Minister Johnson asked an extension of the Brexit deadline despite that he told several times he would not seek a Brexit delay. Johnson would have preferred to have a no deal Brexit rather than begging Brussels for a Brexit extension. Boris Johnson told Parliament: "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so…Further delay will be bad for this country." Nevertheless, Johnson complied with the 2019 Benn Act which required him to send a letter to the European Union to seek to obtain an extension of the Brexit deadline. However, Boris Johnson sent an unsigned letter requesting a Brexit delay to the E.U. along with a letter telling the E.U. about why any delay request should be refused to extend a delay. Johnson writes to Brussels: ¨I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister... that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us.¨ As a result, Johnson made a controversial decision by sending the second letter because this action might not comply with the Benn Act. Boris Johnson could have acted unlawfully by sending several letters to Brussels rather than only the standard letter suggested by the Benn Act. As a result, the Prime Minister`s actions will be challenged in court. Boris Johnson wants too much Brexit to get done at the expense of British law, national unity, and the respect of democratic institutions.

                Consequently, MPs think that a second people`s vote to find a common ground on Brexit is needed. For instance, there was an attempt from Peter Kyle, a Labour MP, to introduce the Kyle Wilson amendment which would require Parliament to trigger a referendum on any deal approved by Parliament. The Guardian reveals in October 2019 that ¨The text of his amendment says any final decision on the future relationship between the UK and EU should be subject to a confirmatory referendum before exit day.¨ This means a second referendum could be a way to settle Brexit once for all. In short, sovereignty lies in the people and Parliament should make sure that the will of the nation is respected. Thus, Members of Parliament want to give power back to the people through a people`s vote.

                On the other hand, Parliament could easily stop the chaos made by the process of Brexit by cancelling Brexit. For instance, a European Court ruling reveals that the United Kingdom could revoke Article 50 itself without having to get any approval from other European Union members. Nevertheless, European judges told the U.K. that revoking Article 50 could not be used to buy more time in order to get a better deal. Some legal experts suggest that revoking Article 50 needs Parliamentary approval. Therefore, MPs could vote a motion requesting the Prime Minister to revoke Article 50 which means cancelling the Brexit process.

                In addition, Parliament is hostile to Johnson`s Brexit plan; therefore, he needs to take back control of Parliament since his government lost the majority of support in the Commons. Accordingly, Johnson`s only hope might lie in the renewal of Parliament by holding an election on December 12th. Johnson expects that people will prefer to give him a new term in office rather than having Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.  The Labour leader is viewed as a socialist by many voters; several people fear that a Corbyn government would wreck the British economy if he ever forms a government. Besides, he has had very unclear positions on Brexit. Nevertheless, several people criticizes Boris Johnson`s strategy to settle Brexit with a general election. Therefore, a general election might not be the right way to settle Brexit once for all. For instance, former Prime Minister Tony Blair told Channel 4 News on October 30th, 2019: ¨I think mixing up the issue of Brexit with the general election is an active extraordinary stupidity…it's profoundly adverse to the interests of the country.¨ Therefore, settling Brexit through a national election could be disrespectful for British voters because a national election addresses several issues rather than a single issue such as Brexit. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Johnson hopes a general election is the right way to settle Brexit because he hopes to win a majority government to get Brexit done.

                Finally, Conservative Prime Minister Johnson could not get his deal approved by the Westminster Parliament because MPs wanted more time to study his deal with the European Union. Johnson is impatient to get Brexit done; therefore, he triggered a general election to renew his government and to get more Conservatives elected to support his Brexit policies. The living cost in the U.K. is rising and Brexit could make it harder for British people to meet ends meet. Therefore, Brexit is a huge gamble for the Johnson government; the new prime minister will have a hard time to sell Brexit to the British people because since the Brexit referendum, people have a better understanding of the negative economic and social outcomes of the British exit from European Union. The New York Times reveals in October 2019 that most opinion polls suggest British people would no longer support Brexit. Besides, Brexit deeply divides the nation between families, friends, English, Scottish, Northern Irish, unionists, nationalists, Europeans, and even among some Conservative Party members. Above and beyond, Johnson`s deal could encourage the British regions of Northern Ireland and Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.

November 10, 2019

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Yannick B. Vallée
par Yannick B. Vallee

Yannick B. Vallée est un politicologue, diplômé de l’Université Bishop's (Lennoxville, Québec, Canada), détenteur du baccalauréat en science politique. De plus, il a un diplôme d’études collégiales en Techniques administrative (option : marketing) de Champlain St. Lawrence College, au Québec. Il s’intéresse... (Lire la suite)

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