Saturday 24 August 2019

Editorial: 'If Johnson calls snap election, will the voters snap back?'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

As the nervous breakdown at the centre of British politics deepens, both the leader of the opposition and prime minister have taken to writing letters. First Jeremy Corbyn dashed off an urgent missive to the cabinet secretary, asking him for clarification on Whitehall's general election rules. Then Boris Johnson wrote to senior civil servants ordering them to make no-deal preparations "top priority". But the only letters that seem appropriate, given the descent into chaos, seem to be SOS.

For even in the event of a no-confidence motion being passed, Mr Johnson is reported to have resolved to remain in office; running down the clock until after October 31.

Thus a prime minister could be on the verge of thwarting Parliament, and side-stepping the Queen, to take the UK out of the EU - with or without a deal - over the heads of the people. Mr Corbyn has described such a scenario as an "unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power". Other dangers were brought home yesterday with the news Britain's economy shrank for the first time since 2012. A Brexit hangover is being blamed. The UK's employers' body, the CBI, said business sentiment is "dire".

The pound has fallen more than 4.5pc against the dollar since the start of July over fears Mr Johnson's government is pushing the country towards no-deal. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the promised "sunny uplands". Mr Johnson is famously dismissive of the "gloomsters" and has pledged to put "rocket boosters" under the economy.

Even if that were possible, the UK is going to take an unprecedented jolt. What is more concerning is the lack of consideration given to how the Conservative high-handedness will play in the messy aftermath.

Domestically and internationally, relationships will be transformed. The greater the impact of a crash-out, the greater will be the damage. Speaking in the North yesterday, Michael Gove, the minister charged with planning for a no-deal Brexit, said his government will make sure it will safeguard the security of the people on the island of Ireland, and that trade continues to flow.

Unfortunately, such commitments are difficult to take seriously given that the status quo is about to be up-ended with no fallback.

Even with a detailed agreement in place, Brexit would be a bold plunge into uncharted waters. Having spent more than two years minutely parsing each phrase, with respect for every nuance, to jettison all that experience on an unnecessary roll of the dice seems incomprehensible. The news from Downing Street is that all leave has been cancelled in anticipation of a snap election. It remains to be seen amid the growing instability and anxiety as to whether the voters snap back.

Irish Independent

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