After sweep, can BoJo deliver on Brexit vow?

Columnist  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Oped

Whole swathes of these constituencies for the first time in decades voted for BoJo and the Tories.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: AFP)

“I waited for twilight to come
through the window
But the evening sun was smothered
in mist
So the dark fell through without
due warning
The longing of lovers who’ve never been kissed.”
— From Cogito Ergo Quarrelsome by Bachchoo

Britain’s general election was held over a single day earlier this week and I sat through the night of December 12-13 watching TV as the exit polls and then the actual election results were announced and discussed.

Friday the 13th is, according to superstition, an unlucky day on which one should stay in bed and pray. It proved so for the Labour Party which disastrously lost 59 seats — but for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party it was the luckiest day since Margaret Thatcher formed a Tory government in 1979. BoJo’s party won 364 seats, a majority over the Opposition of 68 or possibly 69 seats.

Very many of the Tory victories are the result of what commentators call “smashing the Red Wall”. Unlike Donald Trump’s unbuilt material wall, this “Red Wall” is a metaphorical description of those Midland and Northern England constituencies who have, for generations, voted Labour.

Not this time. Whole swathes of these constituencies for the first time in decades voted for BoJo and the Tories. Hence his resounding victory.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said democracy is the worst-best system of government. Or perhaps he said it’s the best-worst, but without looking up quotes on the Internet, you get his drift.

BoJo has finally got a clear democratic mandate. Till Friday the 13th, he was occupying 10 Downing Street having been elected to the prime ministerial position by a percentage of the members of his Tory Party, about 0.06 per cent of UK’s population. Democratic?

The simplistic slogan of his party in this election, apart from the wild promises they’ve made on taxation, the National Health Service, schools and police, was “Get Brexit Done”. He now has a majority in Parliament which will, he promises, deliver on the democratic decision of the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union and pass a “Withdrawal Bill” before Christmas.

Since that referendum, the economic facts about what leaving the EU would mean have emerged and very many people who voted to leave the EU have changed their minds. The Opposition parties have, as a consequence demanded a second referendum as the polls show that the vote for “Remain” is now 56 per cent versus 44 per cent who still wish to Leave. One of the first announcements BoJo made was to rule out any second referendum. Too much democracy!

So why did the Red Wall collapse? Speculative opinion puts this startling desertion of confidence in Labour down to the personality of Jeremy Corbyn. Some attribute it to his dithering on Brexit, not committing to one or other position and favouring a second referendum which the Red Wall constituencies don’t want. Others say the constituents, in their democratic wisdom, can’t see him as a prime ministerial figure.

The truth, perhaps, goes deeper. All the Red Wall constituencies have historically been dependent on coal mining or heavy industries. For generations, and even centuries, these constituencies and communities were dependent for employment and even for their raison d’etre on these industries.

Under the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher, through democratic procedures in Parliament, the mines were shut and coal imported from places like Poland in the European Union, reducing the cost of fuel for industrial capital and as a consequence devastating the mining communities through unemployment. So also with heavy industry such as steel and textiles, the import of which killed the local industries.

The voters in these constituencies, denied any socioeconomic relief or reconstruction through the last 10 years of Tory rule, now see the European Union and its workers who migrate to Britain to work as the source of their impoverishment. Despite the fact that the Tories have imposed “austerity” on the country for nine years, Brexit is all.

Having persuaded the voters that they want to “Get Brexit Done”, the Tories will have to define precisely what this means. He has insisted that if he gets a mandate, Britain will leave the EU by the 31st of January 2020 and by the end of 2020 he will have negotiated every detail of the trade, customs, freedom of movement treaties and regulations between Britain and the EU. The spokespersons for the latter say this is virtually impossible to do in 12 months. The elephant in that negotiating room will be the definition of Brexit. Will BoJo’s 364 MPs all have the same idea of the future relationship between the EU and the UK?

Which of course brings us to the election results in Scotland, which sent 44 Scottish National Party MPs out of a possible 59 to Westminster. Scotland voted with over 60 per cent to remain in the EU and the SNP are now demanding their own referendum to declare independence from the UK.

Boris, the democrat, says he will deny them such a referendum, despite their democratic majority demanding it. He calls himself a “one nation” Tory and is faced with the threat of it breaking “democratically” into two nations.

Despite the massive majority he enjoys and the spot-in-the-sun he can bask in by passing the “Withdrawal Agreement” from the EU in days, BoJo should scour the skies for dark clouds ahead.

The EU is not going to make the trade talks easy or quick. Then there’s Donald Trump who says he’s ready with a trade deal with Boris and Britain, but the US President's record on generosity in deals — trade, diplomatic or military — is not the most reliable. Boris, who wants to be known as the Winston Churchill of our times, can’t without mass betrayal make the UK (with or without Scotland?) a satellite of Trump’s Make America Great Again strategy.   

Perhaps the biggest questions in the coming years is where is he going to get the finance to make the Red Wall constituencies he has breached Great Again?