Hard-Brexit Coup

10 July 2018


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Boris Johnson Resigns as Foreign Secretary


While America was all adither over a which ridiculously right-wing jurist would sit in Justice Kennedy's seat, real news happened with the resignation of Boris Johnson as British Foreign Secretary. BoJo quit over the Chequers agreement the cabinet came to last Friday laying out the British position on its departure from the EU. He complained the PM was leading the country into a "semi-Brexit" that would result in Britain having the "status of a colony." He has long wanted to be Prime Minister, and this is his opening move in a Hard-Brexit coup.

Mr. Johnson campaigned for Leave in the recent referendum, and he has identified himself with the forces in favor of a hard departure, that is, a minimal number of ties to the EU. He served as foreign secretary when his efforts to succeed David Cameron as PM failed. He, Michael Gove, currently the environment secretary, and Jacob Rees-Mogg (a backbencher but chairman of the anti-EU European Research Group) are now leaders of the hard Brexit forces.

In order to get what they want, the negotiations on British relations with the EU after Brexit simply need to fail. In his resignation letter, Mr. Johnson stated, "We have postponed crucial decisions - including the preparations for no deal, as I argued in my letter to you of last November - with the result that we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit, with large parts of the economy still locked in the EU system, but with no UK control over that system."

Ms. May has been careful not to prepare for a no-deal scenario because if there is a Plan B, Plan A becomes less likely. Like Cortez burning the boats in Mexico to force his conquistadors forward, the PM has set a tone that some deal must be reached before Brexit Day on March 29, 2019. That is just 262 days away. Is that enough time to agree on a treaty and get the ratifications of the 27 remaining EU member states? It is going to be close.

Messrs. Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg have one card to play that could prove to be the ace of trump, a leadership challenge. As July gives way to August and the silly season descends on the British media while politicians take a holiday, these men will be making phone calls and having drinks and dinner with back-benchers who long for the glories of the Empire and who see Brexit a step toward making Britain great again.

The House of Commons rises on July and does not sit again until September 4. It will work for nine days before party conferences start. The Tories will meet in Birmingham on September 30 to October 3. If there is to be a leadership challenge, it is going to come before the conference. One expects the knife to come out, if it does, at the beginning of September so fight can be over in time for a unity conference.

For the hard-Brexiters, the outcome of the fight is of secondary concern. While it would be useful to them to hold Number 10, the more important matter is the calendar. A leadership challenge between soft- and hard-Brexiters will paralyze the negotiations with Brussels. Conference season ends six months before Brexit Day. Looking at the constitutional requirements of the various members of the EU, one doubts a treaty can be in place in time if it is not agreed by then. There is a transition period and other time-buying mechanisms in place, but if Brexit comes without a treaty, hard-Brexit wins by default.

The only thing that might stop a coup attempt is significant progress on an agreement with the EU that makes it look like friendly progress is happening. Brussels may find some flexibility on Britain's red-lines that could help. However, if Ms. May is playing it smart, she is already counting votes in the 1922 Committee.

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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