Want to be entertained? Leave it to the Brits to do that, and they have really outdone themselves recently. No, I’m not referring to the just released “Downton Abbey” movie. While that film is wonderful, it simply can’t top the real life drama of current British headlines. Haven’t kept up with the Brexit soap opera? You don’t know what you are missing!
The all too true story is based on Britain’s attempt to leave the 28 nation European Union. No country has tried to leave the group before, so there are no precedents upon which to rely. A referendum was held back in 2016 as to whether the United Kingdom should seek a divorce from this union. Fast forward three years. No exit has yet occurred, a separation agreement has not been approved, and the Prime Minister, the Queen, the Supreme Court, and Parliament have all gotten involved in the mix.
The role of the leading man in this compelling drama is being played by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Haven’t heard of him? Well, he’s only been the Prime Minister since July 24, 2019. But it didn’t take him long to get involved in a huge controversy after assuming this high office.
Although a new prime minister, Johnson’s been in the political arena for some time. He served as mayor of London from May 2008 to May 2016. Johnson then moved up and on to serve as the country’s foreign secretary from July 2016 to July 2018. He is the leader of the Conservative Party and a staunch advocate of the UK leaving the EU. Johnson spearheaded the successful and cleverly named “leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum on whether the UK should exit the EU.
Don’t care for boring political resumes? Well, Johnson’s a bit of a character as well. At age 55 and twice divorced, he’s moved his 31 year old girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, into 10 Downing Street with him. She’s the first unmarried partner of a prime minister to take up residence there.
Americans may be interested to learn that Boris was actually born in New York City, albeit to English parents. Accordingly, he was eligible for dual citizenship in both the U.S. (as his place of birth) and in the UK (as a result of his parentage). Wow! Americans are just taking over in Britain aren’t they? First, Meghan snags the most eligible bachelor in the world (Prince Harry), and then American born Boris becomes prime minister. Look out, UK, the former colonists are coming!
But I digress. Back to the current drama. As Boris assumed the position of Prime Minister in July, an October 31, 2019 deadline loomed for Britain to exit the EU. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, had negotiated an exit deal, but it had been defeated in the House of Commons several times. Boris campaigned on a promise to leave the EU on 10/31 even without a deal. Bottom line? He wants out on October 31st period.
Well, that’s what the Prime Minister wants. But he has to deal with that pesky Parliament. (Think U.S. President and U.S. Congress if you are having trouble envisioning this relationship.) Parliament passed a law designed to stop a no-deal Brexit. This measure would force Johnson to request a Brexit delay if no deal was reached by 10/19. But, of course, Johnson does NOT want to make any such request. What’s a Prime Minister to do?
Leave it to Boris to come up with a creative solution. Get rid of Parliament! OK, well, he didn’t actually do away with Parliament, he just closed it down–with help from HRH, the Queen. Say what? Johnson asked Her Majesty to shut down the Parliament on 9/10, a week after the lawmakers returned from their summer recess, and to keep Parliament closed for five weeks. Ha! Parliament can’t get in his way if it isn’t in session, thought Johnson.
To no one’s surprise, this move caused a political uproar. Claims were made that Johnson shut down Parliament in order to stifle opposition over Brexit. (Well, duh!) Opposition leaders called on Johnson to resign, and legal proceedings were begun to challenge Johnson’s authority to take this action. The technical term for what Johnson asked the Queen to do is “prorogue” Parliament. It is hard enough to say prorogue, much less spell it, so we’ll just continue referring to the process as “shutting down.”
The issue was addressed by the UK Supreme Court which held an emergency three-day hearing. The high court made clear that the only issue with which it was concerned was the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue–er, shut down–Parliament. The 11 justices came to a unanimous decision which was read by its president Lady Hale, who is hopefully a distant paternal relative of mine. Long story short, Boris got the thumbs down. The court determined that the PM’s advice to the queen to shut down Parliament was outside the powers of the PM to give and was thus null, void, and of no effect. In lay terms, the high court said to Boris, “No, no, and no!”
And how did Boris take this news? He gave a thumbs down to the thumbs down the Supreme Court gave him. The PM stated that he “profoundly disagreed” (translation: Are they nuts?) but he would “respect” it (whatever that means). Interestingly, Boris was in New York City at the U.N. at the time the Supreme Court decision was announced. He cut his trip short to return to London to be available to answer lawmakers’ questions when Parliament resumed meeting. Question #1 is likely, “So you thought you could cut us out of the picture, did you?” (No need to answer, Boris, that’s a rhetorical question.)
The clock is now ticking. Will Johnson attempt to shut down Parliament again? Will there be calls for Boris’ impeachment? (Maybe Donald Trump could offer moral support and guidance to the PM.) Deal or no deal for Brexit? Will the Queen remain above the political fray?
Fans of “Downton Abbey” are already pining for a sequel to the recently released movie. The world may not be pining for a sequel to this Brexit soap opera post, but the drama will continue. Sure the situation involves royalty, intrigue, wheeling and dealing, etc., but it can’t top the “Downton Abbey” movie for costuming and romance. Wish I could have Carson bring me a spot of tea when I read the next news report on what Johnson is up to at Downing Street.
Have you been following the Brexit story in the news? Is it comforting as an American to note that other countries have political drama and judicial intervention like we do? Is the allure of “Downton Abbey” that the British drama is fictional as opposed to the reality of the Brexit soap opera?