As the Oct. 31 deadline to reach a deal approaches, negotiations over Brexit have continued to reach dead ends under the leadership of new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Recently, Johnson attempted to suspend Parliament to shorten talks of a deal — however, the decision was declared unconstitutional by the British Supreme Court.
With Johnson’s leadership in question by members of the opposition and his own Conservative party and the deadline drawing near, questions regarding the future of the Brexit deal remain unanswered.
International relations professor Steven Lamy highlighted the polarizing effect of Johnson’s rhetoric.
“He’s got an alienating personality, you either love him or you hate him,” Lamy said. “Party loyalty is not something that he cares about.”
Brexit is the term coined in 2016 for Britain’s plan to leave the European Union. Though the debate over membership in the EU has been going on for decades, a referendum posed by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2016 triggered the formal departure. Fifty two percent of the population had voted to leave the EU.
The debate over membership in the EU has been going on for decades. The move for a formal departure came after 52% of the population voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum posed by Former Prime Minister David Cameron.
Anti-immigrant sentiment stirred by the European refugee crisis and anger over agriculture policies fueled the recent Brexit debate.
During the referendum, the younger population largely voted to remain in the EU, while older generations supported the exit. Following the decision, lawmakers have struggled to agree on the terms of the exit for three years.
Reaching a deal has been controversial for many reasons, namely because of the predicted economic and political consequences. In November 2018, the Bank of England released a report predicting the British economy would shrink 9.3% under no-deal circumstances, which means that Britain would immediately exit the EU without a formal agreement on the process.
Theresa May, who was selected as the prime minister after Cameron’s resignation in 2016, spent 18 months working on a deal that covered issues of UK and EU citizenship rights changes. The deal also discussed how much the UK needs to pay the EU and the contested Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border. May resigned from her position in June 2019.
“The referendum was not just a call to leave the EU but for a profound change in our country,” May declared in her resignation speech, emphasizing the need for a compromise to reach a deal for Brexit.
One of the biggest arguments in parliament is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the only land border between the EU and the UK.
Currently, there are no border posts or physical barriers, and part of May’s plan, called the backstop, was designed to maintain this to prevent reigniting violence that plagued the border region for years. The backstop would only come into effect if the EU and the UK are unable to reach a trade deal by the withdrawal deadline. Essentially, the UK would remain in the EU customs union to avoid creating a physical border, which still divides British lawmakers.
May attempted to pass a plan to exit the EU three times, once in January and twice in March, but all plans failed to pass Parliament. She then met with Labor and Conservative party lawmakers, but the negotiations failed to produce any concrete results.
After failing to reach a deal, Theresa May stepped down in July and was replaced by Boris Johnson, who had been serving as foreign secretary. Johnson decided to enter into politics after spending ten years as a journalist, and was elected as the Mayor of London and later elected as a member of Parliament.
Oxford graduate and USC doctoral candidate Leo Lerner said the chaos of Johnson’s leadership has polarized the UK, making it difficult to pass a deal..
“This is a time of extraordinary political turmoil,” Lerner said. “No one is in the middle about Boris Johnson.”
On Aug. 28, Johnson announced that he would shorten the amount of time lawmakers have to debate his plan. This plan was sharply criticized by the opposition party and members of his own party as undemocratic and unlawful. Earlier this month, Parliament voted to block Johnson’s plan to exit the EU with or without a deal. Twenty one members of Johnson’s party voted against him.
This break along party lines prompted Johnson to fire the party rebels Sept. 3, throwing away his majority in Parliament. According to The New York Times, this decision could hinder his ability to successfully pass a deal by the deadline.
The world awaits the EU’s response to Johnson’s actions and the recent court decision. Lamy believes that the EU will not be willing to compromise on setting the terms of a Brexit deal.
Brexit will set a precedent for other states that may go through a similar process, and the EU wants to be in control of setting those terms.
“The EU is embarrassed by [Brexit], they are sick and tired of being bandied about in the news and being called different names,” he said. “[The EU] sees [Johnson] as a laughable character.”
Many view Johnson’s controversial character as one of the most important factors in his decision-making. While it is difficult to predict what will happen with reaching a Brexit deal, leaders and members of the public remain wary of current leadership.
“He has no political vehicle apart from his personality,” Lerner said.