Boris Johnson once insisted that the UK leaving the European Union with no agreement was unthinkable. In July 2017, while foreign secretary, he declared: “There is no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal.”
Britain did not achieve “a great deal” – but then, it could never have done. The agreement reached by Theresa May, which MPs rejected three times (Mr Johnson voted for it on the final occasion), represented the best possible outcome within the limits set by the Leave campaign.
Though inferior to the UK’s current membership terms – full access to the single market and customs union, opt-outs from the euro and the Schengen zone, and a £4.9bn budget rebate – it would have delivered on the 2016 EU referendum result. By nevertheless voting against the deal, MPs have left Britain’s fate profoundly uncertain.
Mr Johnson has vowed that, whether or not a new agreement is reached, the UK will leave the EU on 31 October. But the House of Commons, where the Conservatives have a working majority of just one seat, could yet thwart him by mandating the government to seek an extension. Mindful of this, Mr Johnson appears set to suspend parliament from around 11 September until the Queen’s Speech on 14 October in an attempt to prevent MPs from stopping no deal.
This would represent an unprecedented abuse of executive power. Having once revered parliamentary sovereignty, Brexiteers now treat elected MPs with the same disdain as judges, civil servants and journalists. Institutions are judged not on their adherence to the UK’s fragile unwritten constitution but on their loyalty to “the people”.
Mr Johnson, who once chided Gordon Brown for assuming office without a general election, has no mandate for no deal. Throughout the 2016 referendum campaign, Leavers boasted that the UK would retain the benefits of EU membership without any of the costs. Now this has been exposed as the fiction it always was, they disingenuously insist that Britain must embrace “a managed no deal”.
Trading under World Trade Organisation rules, as Brexiteers advocate, sounds innocuous but its consequences would not be. The UK, which would become the only state in the world to hold this lowly status, would incur punitive tariffs and likely suffer shortages of food, medicine and fuel.
To avoid economic pariahdom, Britain would still be forced eventually to negotiate a deal with the EU but from a position of maximum weakness. MPs should use all means necessary to prevent this humiliating fate and defy Mr Johnson’s creeping authoritarianism.
The boys of summer
No one interested in cricket will surely ever forget where they were or what they were doing when Ben Stokes hit a boundary to win the third Ashes Test against Australia at Headingley, Leeds on Sunday 25 August. Stokes is a remarkable cricketer. A brilliant all-rounder, he never knows when he or his team are beaten, as he demonstrated in the World Cup final in July. His 135 not out at Headingley, on a broiling day in front of a raucous crowd, has been acclaimed by Alastair Cook, the former England captain, as the “greatest ever innings by an Englishman”.
Let us not forget that England were bowled out for an abject 67 in the first innings at Headingley, leading many to question their resolve and dedication to the cherished five-day game. To beat Australia, they had to accomplish the highest ever fourth innings run chase in the history of English Test cricket. When Stuart Broad was the ninth man out, for a duck, England still needed 73 runs to win. Stokes was joined by the last man, Jack Leach, a left-arm spinner who bats at number 11 for good reason. And yet, the bespectacled Leach (who also suffers from Crohn’s disease) was resolute in defence, supporting Stokes as he launched a ferocious counter-attack, flaying the Australian bowlers. The greatest innings in international cricket history? Who knows for sure. But on that radiant Sunday afternoon in Yorkshire, Ben Stokes, Jack Leach and England reminded us why Test cricket is the greatest form of our wonderful summer game and, perhaps, even the greatest of all games.
This article appears in the 28 Aug 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The long shadow of Hitler