U.K.: Johnson Threatens to Ignore Parliament to Make Brexit Happen

4 MINS READAug 5, 2019 | 16:18 GMT
The Big Picture

The United Kingdom and the European Union now have just under three months to reach an agreement and prevent a hard Brexit. While the British government can still ask the European Union for more time, the new administration in London has ruled out this possibility, arguing instead that Brexit will happen no matter what. In its 2019 Third-Quarter Forecast, Stratfor noted that there will not be a hard Brexit this quarter, though it remains a possibility by late October. 

What Happened

The British government has told Parliament that it cannot prevent a hard Brexit. During an interview on Aug. 5, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the House of Commons could not prevent the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31. Hancock is the first member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet to echo a position reportedly defended by Dominic Cummings, a senior adviser to the government who reportedly said that even if the Commons triggers a successful no-confidence motion against Johnson, the prime minister could still make Brexit happen in time. 

Why It Matters

Johnson became prime minister last month with a promise to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Oct. 31, even if that means leaving without a deal. But some members of Johnson's Conservative Party, as well as most members of the opposition, have threatened to trigger a vote of no confidence against him. Should the vote succeed, Parliament would have 14 days to appoint a new prime minister. And, if legislators cannot appoint one within that time, an early general election would follow. 

Under this logic, the Commons would theoretically have the option to get rid of a rebel leader who is willing to accept a no-deal Brexit. But this rationale also assumes that, after losing a vote of no confidence, the prime minister would ask the European Union to delay Brexit so that the country can organize a general election and appoint a new government. However, even if he loses a no-confidence motion, Johnson will continue to be the United Kingdom's prime minister until his successor is appointed. And during that time, he will have some leeway in choosing the date of the election and could very well decide to hold it after the Oct. 31 deadline — that is, by the time the United Kingdom is already out of the European Union. 

More importantly, as prime minister, Johnson would still have the authority to decide whether to ask the European Union to postpone the country's departure as well. Some of Johnson's advisers believe that he can refuse to ask Brussels for more time and instead allow Brexit to occur. Though this strategy is not without risk, as Johnson would be campaigning for his reelection in the middle of the economic disruptions caused by his no-deal Brexit. 

Even if the new British prime minister loses a no-confidence motion, Johnson will still be able to heavily influence the Brexit process until legislators find his replacement.

But Johnson's critics have argued that a prime minister who has lost Parliament's trust and who is organizing a general election cannot make a decision as crucial as leaving the European Union without a deal in place. Due to the legal uncertainties connected to this issue, some "remain" campaigners have even threatened to take the government to court, should London ignore the will of the Commons and allow Johnson to see his no-deal Brexit pledge come to fruition. 

The Labour Party might also try to force a general election before Oct. 31, though doing so would require holding the no-confidence motion in early September. And this might be too soon to convince rebel Tories to vote against their leader, as Conservative legislators are more likely to vote against Johnson if they believe it's the last resort to avoid a hard Brexit. 

Campaign Promises?

Johnson's government continues to assure voters that it is determined to make Brexit happen on Oct. 31. However, there are also signs that he may be preparing for an early election. On Aug. 5, he promised a one-off injection of 1.8 billion pounds (roughly $2.2 billion) into the United Kingdom's healthcare sector. Meanwhile, Johnson's recent appointment has also boosted his party's popularity, as the Conservatives are currently polling at 32-34 percent — an increase of roughly 10 points from a month ago. While the British government has repeatedly said it will not hold a general election before Oct. 31, Johnson could change his mind and preemptively call for a vote before the legislature has the chance to trigger a no-confidence motion against him. 

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