Bottom Line Up Front
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s August 28 request to suspend Parliament has spurred political anxiety as the UK’s scheduled October 31 exit from the European Union approaches.
- Johnson’s request, approved by the Queen, limits the British Parliament’s time to debate and potentially block a deal to leave the EU to about two weeks, making a no-deal Brexit seem likely.
- Brexit raises legitimate concerns about the future of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as the pillars of the 1998 Good Friday agreement are weakened.
- Brexit highlights the accelerating divisions exacerbated by populist governments and a growing societal discord characterized by nationalist politics.
Over the course of the years-long political debate about the UK’s future, UK leaders have taken politically contentious approaches to solidifying an exit from the EU – without or without a solidified post-EU transition plan. The U.K. path toward Brexit now seems more divisive than when the country first began the process—the opposite of what supporters of the UK’s exit predicted would occur. On August 28, Prime Minister Boris Johnson petitioned the Queen to suspend Parliament from September 9th at the earliest (and September 12th at the latest) until October 14th, in the latest controversial and Brexit-inspired move. The Queen approved the request.
The suspension of Parliament, known as prorogation, is not unusual in that Parliament breaks for a few days of ‘prorogation’ annually before the new session begins. What makes the request by Prime Minster Johnson so controversial is the length and the perceived intent behind the request. Parliament will be effectively shut down for almost five weeks at a time of extreme political anxiety about the future of the UK. The suspension also limits the ability of members of parliament to delay or influence – via legislation and debate – the looming October 31 exit from the EU.
This week’s move prompted an outcry and protests from those opposed to Brexit, with accusations that the move was patently undemocratic. The ‘Leave’ bloc is intent on a hard deadline, deal or no deal, while the ‘Remain’ bloc has dwindling options to influence the outcome. On October 31, the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU. How the U.K. will conduct business and foreign relations with both EU and non-EU partners following its scheduled exit remains a puzzling question. There are also legitimate concerns about the future of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and whether Brexit could lead to a resumption of paramilitary and criminal activity along the Irish border, as the pillars of the 1998 Good Friday agreement are weakened.
The forces dividing the U.K. – from nativist rhetoric to populist politicians – is by no means unique to itself. The United States and many EU countries are witnessing a surge in “country-first” policy approaches, while seeking collective benefits through multilateral and regional institutions appears less worthwhile. These nationalist appeals have been encouraged by disinformation emanating from authoritarian countries like Russia and China – each with a vested interest in a divided and distracted West. The Brexit debate highlights the accelerating divisions exacerbated by populist governments and a growing societal discord characterized by identity politics.