The price of populism is high. In Italy a new coalition government of the center-left Partido Democratica and the populist radicals of the Five Star Movement has squeezed out the hard-right Matteo Salvini, a racist deeply ensconced with Steve Bannon. In Germany the racist nationalists Alternative für Deutschland failed in their bid to win two key elections Sunday in east German regional governments, with voters opting for the established Christian and Social Democrats. But across the English Channel, Britain is edging towards a full-scale political, constitutional and economic crisis under Donald Trump’s best friend in global politics, Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson entered Downing Street five weeks ago after easily winning the support of 90,000 mainly elderly Tory Party members who dislike Europe and dislike Muslims. A third of Johnson supporters want to restore hanging.
Johnson spent the summer holiday in a Trump-like Twitter spree of excited announcements about new government spending pledges. He posted daily insults against the European Union—and especially the politicians of Ireland over their insistence that peace must be preserved on the island.
The hard-line Johnsonites cannot accept that there should be no physical customs posts or other border control installations on the 300-mile winding frontier between Ireland (which is within the European Union) and British-controlled Northern Ireland.
Johnson refuses all compromise along the lines of continuing existing economic and trade relations with the EU’s 27 member states while leaving the EU treaty structure as a full political participating member.
Johnson reflects the ideological passion of the out-and-out anti-European Leninists in Britain who argue that only the full and total amputation of the UK from Europe—politically, socially, and economically—is acceptable.
Irish nationalist hardliners—who consider Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin as traitors for signing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and accepting the six counties of Northern Ireland would remain a British province—have said they will attack any return of border posts. World Trade Organisation rules mandate customs control for trade across borders with different rules about food safety or regulations for manufactured products.
The New IRA and the new Irish nationalist party Saoradh have already carried out a terrorist bomb explosion and fired on police. To have targets like border posts return to the Northern Ireland border will reignite violence, according to all police and security chiefs in Dublin, Belfast and London.
Johnson and the English populists, insistent on cutting the UK out of Europe, do not care. They will throw Ireland under the bus if that is the price of leaving the EU.
In his five weeks of frenetic media activity with daily headlines in the summer holiday season, Johnson has occupied all media space. The opposition parties have proved unable to work cooperatively and coherently against him.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn had 80 percent support among university students a year ago. This has been nearly halved as he has refused to come out unambiguously to criticize Brexit, which for most young people is about living and working freely in Europe, an existing right that Brexit removes.
More than 100,000 Labour Party members have left the party. Its popularity is low in opinion polls as support switches to Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists and Green who are more forthright in their support for EU membership than fence-sitting Labour.
If Labour is unhappy, the Conservatives are now facing up to the fact that their leader is tearing up the constitutional rulebook of British politics. Johnson refuses to go on the BBC and other national television shows to do face-to-face questions. He prefers to record short Facebook outbursts and then expects TV channels to carry them unchallenged.
The best news programs are on Channel 4, which has tougher television journalists than the establishment BBC. Johnson has refused to take any questions from Channel 4 journalists because he says the main editor has insulted him.
No previous prime minister has behaved in such a high-handed manner. But now Johnson has torn up another convention of Britain’s unwritten constitution, namely that he and all other ministers have to be answerable to Parliament.
With less than two months to go before a possible shutdown of trade and traffic between the UK and Europe if no deal can be reached, Johnson has suspended Parliament, which will only sit for a few days this week before being adjourned until mid-October.
Johnson does not like the House of Commons and is a poor parliamentary performer. His jokey, arm-waving demagogy works well on TV news comedy shows and at fundraisers for the Conservative Party in the regions where Johnson is the biggest celebrity Tories have enjoyed since Margaret Thatcher.
But this clowning, shouting style works badly in the Commons, and Johnson prefers to avoid being accountable in Parliament. Now he does not have to explain to MPs— and through them to the public—what he is doing in terms of negotiating with the other 27 EU leaders who would have to sign off on any deal.
Key ministers have said that Johnson will not obey a law that may be rushed though the Commons this week, mandating opposition to an end-of-October No Deal exit.
Again it is unprecedented that cabinet ministers refuse to confirm they will obey the law.
Senior Conservative MPs, who were cabinet ministers until Johnson fired them at the end of July, have been told they will have their right to stand as candidates at the next election removed unless they surrender to the Leninist revolutionaries in Downing Street, urging on their Brexit revolution.
Suspending Parliament, threatening to fire a former Chancellor or Foreign Minister because they do not lick their leader’s boots is neither Tory nor very British.
Johnson faces a challenge in Parliament as MPs prepare to vote on an emergency law forbidding the government from agreeing to a No Deal and instead opting to seek a compromise agreement with the EU.
Johnson stormed out of an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday to say that if Tory MPs opposed his No Deal option then he will call a general election. It is the highest of high-risk strategies. An emergency election may begin on Brexit but will soon switch to wider issues where the Tory record in poor and Johnson’s character and past record of lies will be a campaign issue.
Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and other opposition parties will all call for a fairer Britain and at the same time offer the people a referendum to decide the final deal on Brexit—or opt not to leave.
The tables are thus turned on Johnson as he and his elite backers like Rupert Murdoch refuse to allow the people a say.
The economics of Brexit get worse and worse. Official government estimates leaked two weeks ago said that if no agreement was reached food imports into the UK could slow down dramatically. Customs checks on the 10,000 trucks that go through Dover bringing fresh produce from the continent to UK supermarkets will produce massive 50-mile-long queues on the approach roads of Calais and Dover. Three quarters of medicines in Britain are imported. Nine out of ten tomatoes are imported as well as all soft paper to make toilet rolls. Automakers in Britain rely on 1,000 trucks a day bringing in components from auto firms in Europe. All UK automakers are foreign-owned, mainly Japanese firms like Nissan, Toyota and Honda. If they cannot sell freely into the EU market of 450 million middle-class consumers, they will relocate to the continent.
But as of yet Brexit has not happened. In 1940, the British did not believe they were in the Second World War until the Panzers arrived at Dunkirk and the German bombs started falling on London. September 1939 was rough on Poland, but the next nine months were called the “Phoney War” in Britain.
The nation is still living through a “Phoney Brexit” and will not realize the gravity of the situation until Brexit itself hits. In the meantime, Britain’s unwritten constitution and the conventions of parliamentary democracy are being shredded by a revolutionary prime minister who faces no real challenge from an enfeebled opposition leader now in his eighth decade.
The Queen is ending her long summer spent in her Highlands estate, Balmoral. Before long the Brexit revolution may mean that she has to show a passport to travel to an independent Scotland that will try and make a future as a Nordic-style social democratic partnership state—and stay in the EU.
There is talk of an early general election, the third in four years during which Britain has lost confidence and control over its destiny. Any election is likely to produce a Parliament without a majority as Britain, like most European countries, moves away from single-party majority governments.
For Donald Trump all this is working out so well. His sidekick Steve Bannon’s hopes of creating a force-field of right-wing, racist, Muslim-baiting politics which would conquer the European Parliament and win government posts has flopped; Team Bannon politicians like Marine Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini in Italy and Geert Wilders in the Netherland have failed in both European Parliament and national elections.
But Trump has Johnson now carrying out Nigel Farage’s xenophobic and anti-European political program. It remains to be seen if Johnson can get a majority of MPs—he heads a minority administration—let alone a majority of voters to back him in the Bolshevik Brexit revolution. If he succeeds the economy, society, Parliament and monarchy in Britain will be very different.