Gifting Johnson 5 Years in Power is a Real Risk

Make no mistake Johnson and his entourage are gearing up for an early election.  Everything dome by Johnson, the ham actor, and his government is for home consumption and particularly to haul in support for Farage’s Brexit Party.Bunter Johnson

Notoriously greedy for free cake, Johnson is playing the trick of posing as the opposition, even though it is opposition to his own party’s inability to cope with Brexit.  To get away with this trick depends on a vote of no confidence that leads to an election in which Johnson’s Brexiters present themselves as aggrieved victims.

Implausibly, Johnson and co claim preferential treatment for the UK outside the EU.  For the EU this would self-destructive, compromise its internal Single Market and illegal in EU law. It is asking the EU to open and change its treaties, to change the Good Friday Agreement and to do this within a few weeks.  Merkel and Macron handled Johnson well, avoiding allowing him to use the victim card.  In the end Johnson had to backpedal on his carelessly biting the bait of 30 days to present an alternative to the safety net or backstop for the GFA.

Much of the government’s irresponsible behaviour, the inflated bravado, the easy promises of largesse, the insouciant insistence on Brexit without an agreement is to will on a maladroit no confidence vote and Corbyn is his fall guy.

Unless there is a real prospect of a caretaker government that can extend Article 50 for a fresh referendum on Brexit, Westminster must ensure that it does not gift Johnson a free passage to five years in government.  The Fixed Term Parliament Act provides the mechanism to deny Johnson an election at a time of his choosing.  Above all, Parliament must not be prorogued, as it would be for an election, before October 31.  Two thirds of parliament is required to agree to an election, this should give those who oppose Johnson to choose when an election takes place.  Corbyn must be persuaded to resist complying with Johnson’s strategy.

Election Alert as Johnson plays the Blame Game

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Mr Johnson’s utterances have never been known as a reliable indicator for anything much; his behaviour tells its own story: as UK Prime Minister, he is setting out his stall for a General Election as soon as he can.

As with any habitual liar, it is none too clear how far he believes his own fabrications.  The man who had responded with “fuck business” now responds similarly to the Good Friday Agreement, for it is the Good Friday Agreement that is protected by the backstop or safety net that Johnson would jettison.

Johnson ought to know that the EU’s treaties, its Single Market rules and the Good Friday Agreement itself cannot be brushed aside with bluster.  His demands could never be conceded since they imply opening up and changing both EU treaties and the Good Friday Agreement.  In any case with the Presidents of the Commission and the Council stepping down and the EU Parliament in recess, Johnson is not banking on a volte-face from EU leaders.  His intent is to try to maintain a bluster that casts the EU as the villain.  What else would we expect? – Johnson has made his career out of this sort of behaviour.  Johnson and co are playing a game, but it is as much against the UK electorate as against the EU.  If the public can be induced to believe a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a reality, a sufficient proportion might be strung along to ignore the prospect of a dire economic fallout.

An early election ensures that Johnson would be facing the worst rated UK leader of the opposition ever recorded and at a time where he could hope that the novelty of the new PM had not worn too thin.  Moreover, an election might even provide the pretext for cadging a further extension to Article 50.

Of course with plummeting support in Scotland and other parts of the country and with the Brexit party still on a sizeable portion of the vote, it is a high risk strategy, but not, I submit as high a risk as going to the electorate in the wake of a chaotic exit where the government would be at the mercy of events.  The prospect of shortages, panic buying and empty supermarket shelves in the midst of an election could hardly be conducive to re-election.

Make no mistake the Conservatives are gearing up their media campaigns, they are unleashing a swathe of public spending projects, commitment that they would aggressively castigate from any other party; they could be successful.  With their dominance of British newspapers and their ability to influence social media, they are hard to fight.  It is of little help that from a distance Johnson is considered a charlatan, his rise is a matter of scornful bewilderment; like Trump his lies and deceitful character have been accepted as a norm by many conservatives who would otherwise express outrage to see the same in another political figure.  Nevertheless, this does impose some kind of ceiling on his potential support, and implies that Johnson’s Conservatives can be stopped by perhaps some sort of coordination amongst the opposition on a constituency by constituency basis in seats that are vulnerable to the Tories, and by targeting younger voters who are overwhelmingly anti Brexit and with whom the Tories struggle to connect.

Liberal Democrats and other opponents of Brexit have to be on red alert for an election; these are dangerous times.  Those who follow the Brexit saga will know that it can always get worse.  Johnson may well push through an election for mid-October. I am not sure, but with Johnson urging on a crisis, it might even be possible to recall parliament from recess, to hold a vote for an even earlier election.

Johnson, A. B. de Pfeffel, delivers a timely reminder to EU leaders

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In the unlikely event that any EU leader might possibly have harboured any generous illusions about the character of the man on the eve of his investiture as leader of the Conservative Party and P.M. of the UK, Boris Johnson delivered a timely reminder of his lazy lack of preparation, his cheap populism and incontinent mendacity.

Waving a vacuum packed, Isle of Man kipper at his adoring audience, yet again he inveighed against what he mendaciously imagined to be EU regulations.  Never mind that the Isle of Man is outside the EU and any regulation is the UK’s own, this is a continuation of cynically deceitful behaviour that with Johnson dates back a quarter of a century, during which he has spewed lies about EU rules on bananas, barmaids, condoms, cucumbers … there is an endless list.  Waving a red herring, Johnson is shameless object of self satire.

Across Europe there is widespread bemusement that UK politics has been reduced to this state.  Where for better or worse, the UK had a dominant position in the direction of Europe, in the construction of the Single Market, in driving enlargement and directing international policy it has squandered all and is seen as a sick joke, serving, as Donald Tusk remarked as an effective vaccine against Europhobic populism.

Official reaction is reserved and diplomatic “We look forward to hearing what the new prime minister, Boris Johnson wants, what are the choices of the UK,”  said Michel Barnier, but when asked what this might be,  he replied with scarcely a trace of irony “No. We are ready to listen and to work with him in a constructive way.

Others have been more blunt: “Boris Johnson will find the European parliament an open and constructive partner. I look forward to alleviating Mr Johnson’s concerns regarding the imminent accession of Turkey to the EU, following the claims of the leave campaign, whilst explaining the EU has no rules on the packaging of kippers in the UK.” – Guy Verhofstadt.

Never in modern times has a UK leader been so distrusted from the outset in Europe: his record of endless lies and misrepresentations are well known in the EU as are his legacy of gaffes and feckless incompetency when he served as Foreign Minister.  Moreover his doltish character is well known to the EU public, his position is seen as emblematic of a broken Britain and no government that might react naïvely to this frivolous habitual liar can expect clemency from its electorate.

Forewarned is forearmed; this leader will have no honeymoon in which to establish credentials.  The instinct will be to tie him down to explicit and exacting detail to leave him no quarter for misrepresentation or dissembling.

A Social, Liberal and European Manifesto

At a time when populist and very illiberal political forces, often sustained by support from outside groups and movements for whom the existence of the EU is a threat, are casting a shadow across the continent, Liberal Parties across Europe are putting forward their vision for the EU.

Charles_GoerensThis is very much the context of the Demokratesch Partei (DP) campaign in Luxembourg.  The policies outlined in the manifesto and the vision of a stronger Europe bear the imprint and robust Liberal instincts of MEP Charles Goerens.  UK citizens living and working in EU states appreciate Charles Goerens’ advocacy of EU citizens’ rights.  His advocacy along with that of Guy Verhofstadt puts the UK government’s indifference to shame.

Eye catching proposals include a strong proactive response to member states such as Hungary and Poland that renege on the commitment to the fundamental EU values that enabled them to become EU members in the first place.  The Party would put further EU enlargement on hold until there is an effective mechanism to ensure that commitment to these core values is maintained.  The DP would dispense with the unanimity rule for suspension of member states and make structural funds contingent on upholding EU values.

There is an appeal to the young, in whose hands rests the future of the EU: as well as further expanding the successful Erasmus+ programme, the DP want to give every 18 year old the chance to reach out across the continent and experience the diversity and opportunities in the EU by providing a one month free Interrail pass.

DP candidatesThe DP has one MEP, however with declining support for the centre right CSV party, there is a fighting chance for a second DP seat for the charismatic former TV presenter Monica Semedo.  I have translated both the short and long versions of the manifesto for the DP. The short version is presented below, the longer manifesto can be found here.

 

Sozial, Liberal, Europäesch. 

The Demokratesch Partei believes that Europe needs to be more united; the European Union needs to deepen its integration by becoming more social and more liberal.  Citizens are at the forefront of our concerns. Together, with our European neighbours, we want to address the challenges of global warming, social justice, digitalisation and migration.  At the same time, we are committed to developing a globally competitive Europe.

The government led by the DP has shown the way forward. A strong economy creates jobs and ensures our prosperity. This provides the basis for investing in the future for individuals and for meeting the needs of society.

Equality of opportunity between all Member States can only be guaranteed when all states, large or small respect the common rules for which they have signed up to.

Luxembourg needs a strong European Union, able to plan for the future and benefit from the diverse opportunities, whether political or social.

Thus the future of Europe for us is: ‘Social, Liberal, European’.

The European Union as a Peace Project

The liberty and freedoms we enjoy in a Europe at peace can only be guaranteed if national and European institutions form a united front. Cooperation at both European and international levels needs to be further enhanced.

We shall therefore:

  • Demand that the EU assert itself as a united and coherent body, acting as a single voice in foreign policy, cooperation and development;
  • Reinforce the role of the EU as a guarantor of peace by stepping up disarmament in Europe.
  • Negotiate innovative and sustainable free trade agreements that target job creation and also provide a long term guarantee of our high quality social and economic standards.

Opportunities for young people

For the DP, it is important that the European Union provide rising generations with future prospects that allow them to fulfil their potential, regardless of where they live.

We shall therefore:

  • Require mutual automatic recognition of all qualifications and certification for young people.
  • Guarantee the necessary financial resources for the ‘Erasmus+’ programme so that all can benefit irrespective of their income.
  • Promote the development of the ‘Youth Guarantee’ so that every young person is assured a prospective job, internship or training placement.
  • Expand the ‘DiscoverEU’ program, so that every 18-year-old can discover Europe for one month with a free ‘Interrail’ pass.

Facing up to global challenges, together in strength

Only a strong and united Europe can guarantee our prosperity and address the challenges that lie ahead.

We shall therefore:

  • Declare climate change as an absolute priority for the legislature of the next Parliament, setting clear specific objectives and guaranteeing funding for progressive replacement of fossil fuels with alternatives such as wind and solar power.
  • Demand common migration policies that effectively protect our external borders and that distribute refugees more fairly between all Member States.
  • Oversee more effective cooperation between European intelligence services in order to prevent further terrorist attacks.
  • Initiate class action lawsuits so that consumers may better defend their interests.

A more innovative and better interconnected Europe

The benefits of the European Single Market and free movement of people can only be fully exploited if infrastructures within Europe for mobility, interconnectivity – including digital technology – and energy, are sufficiently developed.

We shall therefore:

  • Demand investment in sustainable cross-border infrastructure projects such as the Brussels-Luxembourg rail link.
  • Create a well-functioning Digital Single Market and put an end to geo-blocking.
  • Resist censorship on the internet, particularly the use of automated upload filters of online content.
  • Create a secure 5G network that provides fast internet access for every company and household across the European Union.
  • Improve protection of animal welfare at the European level, particularly for animals transported across Europe.

For a strengthened, deeper Europe

The DP believes that a country can only join the European Union if it fully respects its core values. These include the rule of law and independent judiciary, respect for minorities, freedom of expression, press freedom and religious freedom.

We shall therefore:

  • Develop new mechanisms that can swiftly and effectively sanction countries that fail to respect our common fundamental values.
  • Oppose further enlargement of the European Union until this issue is resolved.
  • Guarantee minimum social standards to ensure a Europe that enjoys strong social rights.

An Ignominious National Tragedy Unfolds

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The history of the past couple of decades has been of futile attempts to appease the fantasies of die-hard Brexiter zealots.  Media driven distorted representations of the EU have cowed successive Prime Ministers, bringing the UK to its present state of ignominy.

The vision of peaceful cooperation has continually been maligned by ministers who have too often portrayed the EU as an enemy whilst appropriating successful fruits of EU cooperation as their own. Eating the cake and still having it to eat again, claiming the benefits while rejecting the costs of cooperation has been the hallmark of the Brexiter dream.  Allied with xenophobic populism to the point of barely disguised racism, the concoction has been toxic, yet at the same time, the UK has been living in a strange dualism: while the Brexit tragicomedy has played out as a gruesome ‘reality’ show, with the government’s 432 to 202 defeat as another sorry saga, life has continued as it has had to.

Yet Brexit is real.  In a couple of months the demons must hit home.  The Article 50 period might possibly be extended a few weeks, but come May, there would be legal challenges because all EU members are obliged to hold EU elections.

Self-evidently, Brexit ought to be thrown out, but the venom has become systemic. A referendum to countermand the flawed vote of 2016 would only partially draw the poison, but other avenues are worse or given the current state of Westminster, unachievable.  Under Corbyn, only a referendum would drag Labour on board.

In an odd way, an ignominious ‘Brexit In Name Only’ (BINO), remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union, respecting the Court of Justice of the EU, might be one of the least toxic outcomes, both in the UK and across the EU, however currently in any case, there is no mechanism or parliamentary process that could feasibly bring this about since neither anti –Brexiters, such as myself nor many Brexiters would actively support this.

After a nasty, damaging, no deal chaos, a BINO outcome could be the life raft that the UK would eventually cleave to, but no one with any interest in the matter could advocate this given the enduring damage that lack of an agreement would cause.

I see no realistic alternative to a referendum, but, unfortunately, even for this the impediments may prove insuperable.

With the a third of the governing party voting against itself, it made no sense of MPs of other parties to lend support; had the motion passed, the disagreement and indecision in government would merely have been perpetuated and the corrosive uncertainty prolonged. Meanwhile the opposition is enfeebled by a leadership out of tune with its members and most of its MPs.  It is an irony that May and Corbyn are closer to each other on Brexit than they are with their members.

At the very moment where courageous and far-sighted visionary leadership is sorely needed, it is so palpably lacking on both sides of politics in the UK.   A flaw in the political and social character of the country portends its downfall: it is a truly national tragedy.

 

P1170992.JPGP1170979.JPGPhotos from Luxembourg Liberal Democrats among the more than 700,000 at the people’s march against Brexit. With particular thanks to Sue and Peter.