Brexit House of Cards
But the thinking among MPs and the chattering classes is different. Here, most see Johnson not as a man with a plan, but as a blundering bull in the Westminster china shop. By closing off his own options for compromise, and by ignoring Parliament’s instructions, Johnson is hurtling toward either a no-deal exit or the fall of his government. His one lifeboat – if he can reach it – is a general election, which he would try to frame as a “People versus Parliament” contest.
Johnson himself most likely has no idea how this will end. Since his initial burst of braggadocio, his political opponents have sapped his momentum. His consigliere, Dominic Cummings, has become the story, with the media gleefully casting him as the Rasputin of Johnson’s court. Reality is outstripping fiction once again: the real Cummings is proving to be even more demonic than his fictional version, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel Four and HBO’s 2019 feature Brexit: The Uncivil War.
The financial and policy classes believe in rational decision-making because that is how they operate. But politicians (now more than ever) tend to rely on the powers of emotion and instinct. If Johnson lacks a plan, he is in good company. Labour has tied itself in knots promising to renegotiate a better exit deal, even though its best leaders would then campaign against that very deal (in favor of “Remain”) in the event of another referendum. Reason is not welcome at Westminster.
Still, plan or no plan, the brinkmanship on all sides could facilitate a deal. Like exhausted prize fighters, the warring factions may embrace each other just to stay on their feet. But this would surely lead to a terrible deal. It would have to be cobbled together at the October 17 meeting of the European Council, where European leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with the entire process. Moreover, Johnson has already disbanded the civil-service team that led the previous negotiations. Any new agreement will be May’s old deal with a few bells and whistles. It will push the real issues down the road rather than ending the Brexit debate. That show has years to run.
With the UK having worked itself into a frenzy, rational decision-making about the future has become all but impossible. Even if the rationalists are right and a new deal emerges, it won’t have emerged for rational reasons. For better or (considerably) worse, the Brexit virus still has a deadly hold on the British body politic. A new deal would be a placebo, not a cure.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.