Boris Johnson will go down in history, not as a Churchill he so much admires, but the prime minister who led his country into humiliation and global irrelevance.
If you want to understand the madness that has possessed the English, watch the scene in Mel Brooks’ crazy movie, “Blazing Saddles”, in which the sheriff, surrounded by a mob that wants to lynch him, finds an ingenious solution. He points a gun to his head and threatens to blow his brains out. One of his assailants shouts, “Be careful! He means it!”. Another says, “He is so crazy that he might shoot!” Little by little, the mob moves away. Once safe, the sheriff exclaims: “What idiots!”
Boris Johnson seems to believe that the European Union leaders are idiots too. On Wednesday, the British Prime Minister announced that he was proroguing the British Parliament, at first sight a manoeuvre in the style of Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela, and other authoritarian leaders who aspire to unlimited power. But the tactical objective, as Johnson himself confessed to his cabinet, is to press for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in more favourable conditions than those offered to date.
Johnson has insisted again and again that European leaders must be convinced that when he threatens to leave the European Union without any agreement, he means it. Johnson’s gamble is that if the United Kingdom speaks with one voice, his own, the Europeans will make the concessions that he demands, avoiding the vacuum of a “no deal” non-agreement. His problem is that most English parliamentarians do not want to play his game. His solution is to shut them up.
By silencing them, Johnson intends to send the message that if the United Kingdom sinks, they all sink; that leaving without agreement – letting the deadline of October 31 pass without the free trade system between the United Kingdom and the rest of the continent – would be equally catastrophic for both parties. It is not true. What the parliamentary majority knows, and Johnson prefers not to hear is that it would be much worse for the United Kingdom. Internal reports from the British government itself warn that a sharp exit from the European Union would cause chaos in ports and a shortage of food, gasoline and medicine.
That is, Johnson’s negotiating tactic that the parliament opposes is: do what I want or I shoot myself.
Or rather, I will shoot twice. The second shot is aimed at ruining his own country politically. The last time an English leader suspended Parliament was 400 years ago, at the request of King Charles I. Last Wednesday, at the request of Johnson, Queen Elizabeth II blessed the suspension of Parliament for five weeks from September 9. Unlike Charles I, Queen Isabel had no choice. It was a formality required by convention.
It has allowed Johnson to send another message to Brussels, also following the example of Mel Brooks’ sheriff: such is my commitment to fulfil the impossible dream that I have sold to my countrymen, a Brexit without any cost, and if they don’t give it to me, then I am willing to sabotage the oldest parliamentary democracy in the world.
In the capitals of Europe they are stupefied by the antics of the British Prime Minister. So far, they have done their best to find a solution that minimizes the inevitable damage of Brexit. But, after seeing what happened this week, one wonders: Will Macron, Merkel and the other European leaders really want their countries to remain partners with a banana monarchy? Won’t the argument begin that the best strategy at this point would be to let Johnson shoot as many bullets he wants?
“Boris,” as his flatterers call him, does not think in the long term. He is an actor who draws on fleeting applause. He does not see or does not want to see that in two months he will be hit by a truck. The reality is that the Brexit story will not end when the curtain goes down on October 31. There is a famous phrase from Winston Churchill, the character that Johnson has always fantasized about emulating, in a speech he gave three years after the start of World War II. It seemed that the Germans were beginning to lose strength. Churchill warned: “No, this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. It may be, perhaps, the end of the beginning. ”
The Brexit War is going to go on for a long time. There are tough battles ahead. On the morning of November 1 the British government will have no choice but to prepare for another series of negotiations with its neighbours, and in the case of non-agreement in inferior conditions. The United Kingdom can leave the European Union but will never cease to be part of Europe.
He will have to return to the table in Brussels and reach new economic agreements with the continent with which he has, by far, his most important commercial relationship. Johnson and his people may not have understood, but the British Empire has long ceased to impose its rules on the rest of the world.
The reality is that it will take years until all the regulations and tariffs and fees for the exchange of goods through the English Channel are set. And far from “regaining control,” as the Brexit prophets have always preached, the English will return to a condition of vassalage not so different from what they experienced in ancient Roman times. The United Kingdom will not go to Brussels so much to negotiate as to plead.
Sooner or later the truth will prevail. The English will see that it is cold outside, that closing the door to Europe was a colossal mistake. Yes, 60 days from now, Johnson can present an exit without agreement as a victory. But time will not forgive him.
He will be remembered as a prime minister who humiliated his country and plunged it into relative poverty and global irrelevance. He will go down in history not as Churchill but as a version of Charles I in a suit and a tie. The king was also a victim of narcissism and the old vice of self-deception. He confronted Parliament and lost. In 1649 they cut off his head.
John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 31 August 2019, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell