Johnson May Be PM But Getting Brexit Done Will Hardly Be a Walk in the Park
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
To the surprise of virtually no one Boris Johnson was selected to lead the Conservative Party and thus the person to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. Even his rival for leadership of the Conservative Party, Jeremy Hunt, never really stood much of a chance of defeating Johnson. The new PM immediately conducted a major re-shuffling of the Cabinet as he tries to present a united front which May’s Cabinet always seemed to lack. Unfortunately for Johnson he must now undertake the task of governing, which, as is always the case in democracies, considerably more challenging than winning elections.
The new Prime Minister has a clear agenda which he pledged to achieve; negotiate the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, by the determined deadline of October 31 or Great Britain will leave without a settlement—a hard Brexit. The issue which Johnson knows full well is that Britain cannot leave the EU by fiat, Johnson still requires the approval from Parliament. This important fact entrapped the former Prime Minister—together with Mrs. May’s weakness as a leader of her own Conservative Party. While the Conservatives may have selected Johnson to be their leader, there is no assurance that he will have all his party members behind him in Parliament, to say nothing of numerous opposition voices.
(The current Conservative led Government is a minority Government holding only 311 out of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. To command a majority, the Conservatives require the support of minor parties. While the largest opposition Labour Party has only 247 seats in the Commons, on the Brexit vote there are divisions in almost every direction in both major parties.)
Johnson may be more personable than May, but like his predecessor he faces an enormous challenge up against the October 31 deadline to negotiate an exit, have it pass Parliament, or –failing that—call for new elections. If indeed it comes to a new election not only will the EU deadline likely pass, but the Tories will face an energized Labour Party, even if Labour votes to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. In addition, several of the smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, stand to increase their seats in the next Parliament assuming the Brexit issue remains unresolved.
Politically, there is no clear picture what role Nigel Farage might play with Johnson. The leader of the Brexit Party in the European Parliament and former head of the U.K. Independent Party (UKIP)– a British right-wing party–presents political challenges and opportunities for Johnson. Making political alliances with Farage will give Johnson increased Brexit support, but it may cost Johnson dearly on other fronts.
Many of the global issues which the May Government largely avoided also loom large on Johnson’s agenda. The strength of the English economy as well as its relationship with Europe economies on a very practical level have been once again kicked down the road. While Johnson is largely perceived to have a better personal relationship with President Trump, there is a large unknown facing the U.K. as it considers what will be its future relationship with their largest trading partner across the pond.
Into this combination of events enters the month of August. In Britain and throughout Europe most of the key leaders will be on summer vacation. Few things in Europe are more sacred than August vacations, so negotiations on all fronts will likely come to a standstill.
At the end of the day it seems that Johnson is bringing a smoother, slicker, and keener political face to British political leadership. It remains unclear whether this will produce any better substantive results. In the meantime, the clock at Westminster is clicking.