Britain might have given birth to the Magna Carta, but even its democracy is under threat from firebrand Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bid to force a no-deal exit from the European Union. Johnson last week received approval from Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament for more than a month, boosting his chances of imposing a Brexit plan with little or no say from Parliament.
Substantial economic, political and trade consequences could ripple across the Atlantic if Johnson’s actions go unchecked, meaning Europe’s problem could soon be ours. As if to add to the chaos and confusion, President Donald Trump is throwing his support to Johnson.
Johnson threatens to withdraw Britain from the European Union as of Oct. 31, consequences be damned. His suspension of Parliament is so controversial, his working majority is collapsing over it, putting his ability to govern in question. Britain could be forced into “snap” nationwide elections in coming weeks. Johnson could emerge nominally stronger, or voters could oust him, making him the shortest-serving prime minister in Britain’s history.
Johnson is trying to reassure nervous Britons that lost trade with Europe can be replaced by American commerce because Trump promises to work out a free trade accord. Easier said than done.
During her Aug. 14 visit with our editorial board, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was adamant that Johnson and Trump are fooling themselves. “The president is selling a bill of goods if he thinks there’s going to be a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement if they violate the Good Friday accords,” Pelosi said. The U.S.-brokered Good Friday agreement in 1998, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, stipulates open borders between that British territory and EU-member Ireland.
Vice President Mike Pence, on a visit to Dublin, restated the administration’s support for Johnson’s strategy but acknowledged that Northern Ireland is a big sticking point. A no-deal Brexit would force Ireland to erect a hard border with Northern Ireland to enforce whatever immigration, customs and tariff rules the European Union decides to impose on all British territory.
Pelosi told us that before the Good Friday accord, “it was barbed wire, tanks. We’re not going back to that. If they think, oh, we’ll just get out of the EU” and let free trade with the United States fill the gap, it won’t happen. She warned bluntly: “I don’t just speak for myself in that regard. ... I have support in this case Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate.”
Voters on both sides of the Atlantic have toyed enough with the style of reckless, populist politics that Trump and Johnson embrace. It’s time to reintroduce sanity into the process, and if Britons don’t have the sense to do it themselves, then it’ll be up to Congress to show them why democracy must always prevail over anyone with dictatorial dreams.