Johnson’s maneuver essentially forces the Remain camp to make a decision next week, when Parliament reconvenes. Will they countenance Corbyn even for a purportedly short while as prime minister to stop Brexit? Will Corbyn drop his demand to lead the government in a bid to stop Brexit even though polls show about a fourth of Labour Party voters still back leaving the E.U.? Or will they finally recognize the obvious, that a referendum backed by 52 percent of Britons followed by a parliamentary vote to leave the E.U. is democratically legitimate and must be obeyed?
Despite the Remainer caterwauling, Johnson’s move actually changes very little. Parliament still reconvenes next week. Members can still offer a vote of no confidence in his government while it remains in session for a few days. If that passes, they still have the legally mandated 14 days to come up with an alternative government. If they are really dead set against a no-deal Brexit, they have ample opportunity to prove it.
The week’s delay, however, forces their hand. Under existing British law, the U.K. will exit the European Union — deal or no deal — on Oct. 31. About 80 percent of Parliament voted to leave when it triggered Article 50 in 2017. If Parliament reconvened in early October as per its prior schedule, opponents could have moved at that time to change the government. But now if a no-confidence vote passes, Johnson could ask the queen to give him the statutory 14 days to assemble a new government, during which Oct. 31 would pass and Britain would leave. The short delay, then, means Parliament is forced to decide next week whether to back him or sack him.
Leaving the E.U. is in Britain’s long-term interest whether there is a deal or not. There certainly will be short-term economic pain as the economy adjusts to the new relationship, but that should not be the deciding factor. Instead, national sovereignty and democratic values should dictate leaving.
This was on clear display in the past 10 days as the prime minister traveled to the continent in search of a new deal. One would think he would have gone to Brussels, the E.U.’s seat, to negotiate with European Council President Donald Tusk. Instead, Johnson went to Berlin and Paris to talk with the real powers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. It’s as if China’s President Xi Jinping wanted to discuss tariff policy with the American leadership and went to talk with the governors of California and Texas instead of the White House.
The European Union is simply not democratically accountable to its purported citizens or member states. The E.U. elections earlier this year returned more than 700 parliamentarians, yet negotiations over whom was going to become the E.U. commission president were held by the leaders of the largest member states, not the parliamentarians themselves. For all the cries from Remainers that Johnson’s prorogation is undemocratic, the fact is that the Union they seek to remain in is fundamentally undemocratic. That more than anything else is reason for the U.K., the “Mother of Parliaments,” to leave.
Johnson’s move means that Brexit will get resolved one way or another this fall. There are now only three possible outcomes: Johnson falls and is replaced by a pro-Remain government; he stays and Brexit goes through; or he is forced out with no replacement and the country goes to another general election, which polls show Johnson’s Conservatives will likely win. Johnson has correctly assessed the odds are in his favor, and he’s moving swiftly toward victory.
Johnson has shown more vision and spine in a month and a half than his predecessor, Theresa May, showed for three years. Relying on the democratic mandate of the 2016 referendum and the 2017 general election, which returned the Conservative Party to power on an unambiguously pro-Brexit platform, he means to get the job done. To beat him, Remainers must now show they have a common vision and resolve. One doubts that they do.