Why Brexit destroyed Parliament
And why the U.K. is still unlikely to actually leave Europe
It's been a bit since I've checked, but so far as I am aware the streets of Britain are not teeming with millions of starved and diseased waifs gouging one another's eyes out in quarrels over the last remaining cans of fuel. If you don't find this report shocking, you probably haven't been keeping up with the forecasts from the Bank of England and the IMF and even the British government itself about the looming possibility of a so-called "no-deal Brexit."
Boris Johnson, the newly elected Tory prime minister, has asked Queen Elizabeth to "prorogue" (basically close) the current session of Parliament. He is hoping to limit the ability of the opposition, from both the Labour Party and Conservative rebels, to stop a no-deal Brexit from taking place. This move has been widely criticized. It has led to the resignation of various mid-level Tory leaders, including Ruth Davidson, the head of the Scottish branch of the party, and Lord Young, the Conservative whip in the House of Lords. It has also been called "unlawful, unwarranted, and unconstitutional." (Funny that no one ever says these things when the national parliaments of other E.U. member states get suspended in order to ratify treaties or otherwise comply with decrees from Brussels.)
Most of the outrage is predictable. As Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative leader of the House of Commons, said in a recent interview, most of the people insisting that Johnson's actions are an abuse of power have always opposed leaving the E.U. under any terms. What Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, is calling "a smash-and-grab raid against our democracy" essentially reduces the time allotted for debate from five weeks to three.
It has been clear for some time now that if the United Kingdom is ever really going to leave the European Union, it would have be this way. The June 2016 referendum was the constitutional equivalent of a straw poll, an empty political gesture from then-Prime Minister David Cameron. There is no binding mechanism in place to force Parliament to act on the results of the vote. Nor, more importantly, is there anything like a clear parliamentary majority in favor of Brexit in the first place, never mind a well-defined coalition that supports leaving under this or that specific set of terms. Opposition to the E.U. has always been split between hard-left socialist Labour members like Michael Foot and Tony Benn on the one hand and Tory reactionaries like Enoch Powell on the other. Teresa May, Johnson's predecesor, proposed more deals than anyone could count, and not a single one could unite her own party, much less win support outside the Conservative benches, either in the opposition party or among her fellow European leaders. There is never going to be a deal. Brexit has broken Parliament for the foreseeable future. Britain is going gentle into that good night, or not at all.
If you are as cynical as I am, you will probably put your money on the latter. The October 31 deadline for leaving the E.U. is the latest of many that have been approached, passed over, and forgotten about. Angela Merkel has suggested more than once that the characterization of it as a firm cutoff point was inaccurate. Emmanuel Macron in France has gone even further, suggesting that negotiation of any sort of deal by that date is impossible. For both of these leaders, the loose target does not mean that Britain is likely to leave without any terms — they are, with good reason, discounting this possibility altogether. Meanwhile, it is already being reported that Boris is looking ahead to a general election campaign, which he will no doubt hope to fight on the issue of support for Brexit — as if Britain had not already done two of these in the last four years, to say nothing of the referendum.
Is the E.U. really the Hotel California? The answer is probably yes, unless Boris, with the help of Her Majesty, dreams up something far more revolutionary than an early summer vacation for MPs.