pennews
www.pennews.net
Beleaguered Boris, Brexit and BA
Opinion

Beleaguered Boris, Brexit and BA

S.Sivadas

British premier Boris Johnson who suspended Parliament in the face of the controversy over the Brexit move, that has been going on like a television serial hit a roadblock at the latest stumbling block with a Scottish court ruling on the move, and government documents cautioning that a no-deal Brexit could lead to widespread civil unrest and shortages of food and medicines.

This has made the government reveal hitherto closely guarded Operation Yellowhammer documents, that revealed that preparedness for handling a no-deal Brexit has remained ‘at a low level’, with logjams at Channel ports threatening to impact on the supplies. These documents had also warned of ‘a rise in public disorder and community tensions’ the event of such a scenario.

Totally unruffled, the government has stressed that it was ‘updating the assumptions’ in the document, and that it was ‘neither an impact assessment, nor a prediction of what is most likely to happen. It describes what could occur in a reasonable worst case scenario’, a minister, Michael Gove revealed.

But the release of the document, after adamant MPs voted to compel the government to publish it, fueled further fears that a disorderly divorce could be hugely disruptive to the country. The government has, meanwhile, appealed the Scottish court ruling, with the case set to be heard in the Supreme Court, and Parliament staying shut for the time being.

Johnson, his hair akimbo, seems to be playing it cool saying suspending parliament was just a routine affair that would allow his government to launch a new legislative agenda, though critics accuse him of trying to silence opposition to his plan to leave the European Union on October 31, even if he has not agreed to Brussels’ exit terms, with Johnson arguing that while he is working to get a deal, Britain must leave the bloc regardless, three years after the referendum vote for Brexit.

The Scottish ruling has also forced some MPs to stage a protest and the Labour’s spokesman, Keir Starmer said, ‘I urge the prime minister to immediately recall parliament so we can debate this judgement and decide what happens next ’ while a government source said nothing is changing ‘ until the case was concluded.’

The case in the Scottish court itself was filed by 78 British lawmakers, who said it was unlawful for Johnson to advise Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue parliament if the aim was to limit consideration of Brexit, as a lower court had earlier ruled that the advice was a matter of political judgement -- but this was overruled by the Inner House, Scotland's supreme civil court.

‘The UK government needs to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda and proroguing parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this,’ said Johnson, who took office in July promising finally to deliver on the referendum decision by leaving the EU on October 31.

Johnson, whose EU adviser David Frost is currently in Brussels, insisted his government was making ‘great progress’ towards getting a deal and ‘the ice floes are cracking, there is movement under the keel of these talks.’ All the same he denied speculation that he was softening his opposition to the most contentious aspect of his predecessor, Theresa May, the so-called 'Irish backstop'.

This was a plan to maintain an open border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland by keeping Britain within the bloc's customs union -- something euro-sceptics have found unacceptable. ‘Given the uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding the timing and format that the United Kingdom’s exit will take, preparing for a no-deal Brexit is the most sensible and it is the safest option,’ said Ireland's Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Johnson had earlier slammed Opposition for voting against his call for a snap election in a stormy late-night debate ahead of the suspension and said he would ‘strive to get an agreement’ at a summit in Brussels, and the alternative is a ‘no-deal’ departure that critics warn would spark economic chaos. And he accused his opponents of shirking their duty by blocking an early election.

He held a cabinet meeting later to plot his next move after a series of defections and expulsions left him far short of a parliamentary majority and unable to garner enough votes from MPs to hold an early election. He was also due to meet with Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, amid rumours he may be softening his negotiating demands over the key issue of the Irish border and associated trade conditions after Brexit. Foster, whose party wants Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain, however had warned Johnson that the province must not be sacrificed in talks.

‘What people are talking about is the break-up of the United Kingdom,’ she had said. ‘That is not something that any prime minister in the United Kingdom is going to in any conscience go along with.’ Conscience or not, the move has raised fears of the vaunted Westminster system itself hurtling down a slippery slope with the historian Simon Schama calling it a ‘return to the 17the century’. A former prime minister, John Major, who succeeded Margaret Thatcher, went even one step further and said it was the ‘darkest moment’ in Britain’s constitutional history and the slogans heard were more likely to be heard in Hong Kong than in this Mecca of parliamentary democracy.

The debate about a soft Brexit or a total messy divorce had been simmering ever since 2016 when May’s government was sure it knew what the voters wanted even if negotiated with the EU 27 even if it knew this could be possible with a series of red lines she had already laid down and forcing it to delay the departure. When the MPs were unrelenting on any of the alternatives suggested she gave up and that is when Johnson stepped in. He insisted that the deal contained the infamous ‘Irish backdrop’ a mechanism to avoid a return to the hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. With May spending two years negotiating the 577 pages of the deal and saying it could not be reopened the EU would not believe Johnson would pull out a deal and European diplomats felt that his central scenario was sure to crash out.

Much before all this, the public had considered another prime minister as the most disastrous, with only two others coming close. David Cameron is perceived as the man who ordered a referendum on a bewilderingly complex issue of profound national importance at that time for which there was little public clamour, who was so arrogant and complacent that he allowed the outcome to be decided by a simple majority. And he was also the one who led and lost a wretched campaign in favour of 'Remain'; and who the moment he was defeated, left the scene leaving others to cope with the ensuing mayhem. That is the mayhem that Johnson is trying to handle in howsoever a clumsy way.

Cameron was solely responsible for Britain’s bitter breach with its European allies, the hobbling of its economy, the loss of its global stature, the paralysis of its political system, the destruction of its social cohesion, its sundering and entry of ‘the demagogic Boris Johnson’, said one columnist.

For all that, he continued, Cameron has been cashing in and enjoying himself, but for a former PR man he seems remarkably careless of his public image, making occasional appearances in the media for all the wrong reasons. For example, in 2017, amid widespread austerity, he flaunted the luxurious £25,000 shepherd’s hut that he bought to write his book and during the final days of the 2017 election campaign, and as his party battled to retain its parliamentary majority, his wife, Samantha, posted a picture of their celebrating their wedding anniversary at a luxurious Spanish retreat. And as May fought desperately to secure parliament’s approval for her ‘Chequers deal’ last January, Cameron was ‘chillaxing’ at a £1,700-a-night beach resort in Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, setting out a vision of jammed ports, public protests and widespread disruption, the Times said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst case scenarios. It said up to 85 per cent of trucks using the main channel crossings ‘may not be ready’ for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the traffic flow improves.

However, Johnson is all set to reassure French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Westminster parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one. With the prime minister under pressure from politicians across the spectrum to prevent a disorderly departure, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to bring down Johnson's government in early September to delay Brexit, it is unclear if lawmakers have the unity or power to use the parliament to prevent a no-deal departure, that would be the country’s most significant move since World War II.

Meanwhile the critics have been unsparing with one of them saying that ‘’to depict the Tory leader as a British Trump (including the President himself) underestimate his capacity for cowardice. He also likes to be liked, which is why he promises contradictory things to different people. As Mayor of London, he could be persuaded to support and oppose the same idea at consecutive meetings.’ The recent three-day strike over pay by British Airways which grounded nearly 150 aircraft, along with more than 700 pilots and 4,000 cabin crew, and forced it to cancel almost all of its flights seems one of the unintended consequences of this turmoil. The BA explained that ‘the nature of this highly complex global operations means that it would take some time to get back to a completely normal a flight schedule’, while the Balpa said that the strikes had been a ‘powerful demonstration of the strength of feeling of BA pilots.’ Tens of thousands of flights had to be cancelled, costing BA an estimated £40m a day and Balpa secretary said: ‘Surely any reasonable employer would listen to such a clear message, stop threatening and bullying, and start working towards finding a solution.’ BA has said its pilots are already paid ‘world-class’ salaries, and has described the pay offer as ‘fair and generous’. After three years of pay deal, some captains could be taking home more than £200,000 per year, including allowances.

Cameron chilling at a sea resort on Costa Rica, and pilots with hefty pay cheques, Johnson seems to be having too much on his plate.