Even Bojo Johnson Can’t Find His Promised Brexit Wunderland

Photograph Source: Julian Stallabrass – CC BY 2.0

“What a piece of work is man!”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

“A piece of work: a remarkably difficult, malicious, unpleasant, or objectionable person”

– Free Dictionary

By all accounts, even those given by his immediate family, BoJo Johnson is a piece of work.

Egotistical, lazy, unscrupulous, corrupt, priapic, self-indulgent, faux-clownish but nasty underneath, sociopathic, and so forth, are just some of the adjectives used in the British media to describe Boris Johnson. Some of us on the left of course use language that is far blunter and epithet-filled.

With his over-privileged background, BoJo is accustomed to having the world conform to his desires ex machina.

BoJo’s Brexit dealings have not so far found this ex machina, and Jeremy Corbyn now has him over a barrel.

BoJo has been forced to abandon his promise to leave the EU by the end of October, after having said he’d rather be “dead in a ditch” than not leave by the Halloween deadline he set for himself. He’s now, without shame or embarrassment, petitioned the EU for an extension to that deadline.

In addition to begging the EU for a deadline extension, BoJo’s latest ploy is to call for a general election on 12th December.

Parliament had approved the submission of BoJo’s withdrawal deal to the EU, and the EU in turn gave the deal its approval.

The deal now has to be ratified by parliament in a second reading before it can become law. This is usually the juncture where MPs can table amendments to the bill in order to wreck or dilute it, and BoJo wanted to bulldoze it into law so he could adhere to his end of October withdrawal deadline.

However MPs had no desire to fast-track an obviously flawed piece of legislation, and forced BoJo to put his bill on hold and ask the EU for an extension to the October withdrawal date.

At the same time he wants a general election to obtain a clear mandate for his Brexit deal.

Johnson is therefore saying he wants a general election in order to have his “fantastic” Brexit deal be given a clear mandate to become law, but, fearful of impending hurdles in his bill’s final progress through parliament, he also says he wants to solve the Brexit impasse by having an election. So: huge Brexit success on the one hand, or stalemate on the other, BoJo can’t seem to decide.

His opponents have seen right through this typical piece of BoJo waffle, and insist that No Deal be taken off the table before an election can be contemplated.

A No Deal Brexit is of course BoJo’s ultimate threat to anyone who stands in the way of his withdrawal bill becoming law.

None of this toing and froing is inadvertent, because BoJo has no real strategy.

Instead he relies on opportunistic gambits, hoping that his opponents will be bounced into acquiescence. This has not worked, neither with parliament nor the EU.

The sorry truth about BoJo is that the ability to form alliances or resort to statecraft is completely beyond him.

He places his trust on lackeys and placemen, and a dodgy adviser named Dominic Cummings. Cummings has been known to prowl the corridors of parliament, glass in hand while accosting MPs and drunkenly berating them for opposing his boss in their Brexit votes.

In the midst of this shambles, BoJo is now hostage to Corbyn, who is not (so far) going along with any call for a snap general election.

Better to let BoJo and the Tories stew in the morass they created for themselves, than throw him the lifeline of a general election, which he can then frame as a populist “People vs the Parliament” election, with BoJo himself of course playing the role of the Brexit-saving populist hero.

Having an election so close to Christmas is unusual in British politics.

The last time this happened was on 14th December 1918, when the prime minister David Lloyd George sought a post-war electoral mandate for his “a home fit for heroes” prospectus (the First World War having ended on 11th November that year).

A date near Christmas may be advantageous for the chance-taking BoJo: undecided voters could be sidetracked by the holiday season, and university students (who are overwhelmingly anti-Tory) will be on their end-of-term break and so away from the campus towns where they are registered to vote.

It is to Labour’s advantage to defer an election until the new year, not just to have BoJo and his fellow Brexiters go around in ever-decreasing circles dealing with parliament and the EU, but also because new EU laws clamping down on offshore tax-avoidance will come into effect on 1st January 2020.

This is another important motivation for BoJo and his crew to have a speeded-up Brexit.

Many major Tory donors and supporters benefit from offshore tax-avoidance loopholes, which Labour has pledged to end once it takes office.

If the UK is still in the EU on New Year’s Day 2020, these new EU laws will of course entangle tax-dodging Tory donors and supporters. To say these fat cats aren’t happy with this impending legal assault on their looting ways is perhaps an understatement.

In the eyes of some, Brexit and BoJo even have an impact well outside politics.

England played the New Zealand All Blacks in the semi-finals of the rugby World Cup in Japan on Saturday, and secured a rare win against the almost invincible New Zealanders (“the god of rugby”, in the words of England’s coach, the Australian Eddie Jones).

After the match The Guardian, reporting from a sports bar in a small town in rural New Zealand, described the reaction of a despondent Kiwi fan seeking an ounce of consolation from his team’s defeat:

“Like many at the bar, Reed wondered if England needed this win now more than New Zealand. “I mean, they’ve got Brexit right? They’ve got that Boris guy in charge? Damn. Maybe they need this, who wouldn’t need this with what they’ve got going on up there? We’ll be ok”.

Some consolation indeed for an opposing fan thousands of miles away from Ukania whose religion is rugby– damn, at least we don’t have Brexit and that piece of work Boris on our collective plate!

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.