Director's Blog

Boris Johnson: Riding towards a place with no name

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

18th October 2019

This article was first published on Eurobabble.

Editor’s note: As foreshadowed in this article, the House of Commons
decided on 19th October to defer more detailed discussion of the
Withdrawal Act until the following week. The votes of the DUP were
crucial in securing this deferral.

Discussing the protracted negotiations to end the Vietnam war, the American diplomat John Negroponte once said that it had taken a long time to “force the North Vietnamese to accept the American surrender.” Things have moved more quickly in the Brexit negotiations, where it has taken barely a fortnight for Boris Johnson to surrender his supposed central objection to the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May, that of a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

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Johnson and Corbyn: Two peas from the same pod?

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

9th October 2019

As the deadline of 31st October approaches, it becomes daily clearer that a plausible path exists for the prevention of a “no deal” Brexit and indeed for the prevention of any kind of Brexit. The dangerous incompetence of Boris Johnson’s government on the European issue has finally persuaded many, probably most MPs of the need for a cross-Party government. Opinion has not yet crystallised in Parliament on the precise mandate for this new coalition, be it to hold a General Election or a People’s Vote. At present, the balance of opinion in Parliament leans towards a new General Election, followed by a People’s Vote. Once installed, however, a cross-Party government might well wish to reverse this temporal sequence. A General Election now would be highly unlikely to contribute anything to the resolution of the Brexit impasse. By the vagaries of the current British electoral system, it could even result in the election with a workable majority of an English nationalist government headed by Boris Johnson. Opinion polls consistently suggest on the other hand that a People’s Vote would lead to the UK’s remaining within the European Union. Faced with choice, a coalition government would not need to hesitate long before calling a People’s Vote, an option for which it would anyway probably be easier to obtain an extension from the European Council.

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The UK needs a Brexit Referendum not a Brexit Election

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

11th September 2019

Parliamentary opponents of Brexit, and in particular opponents of “no deal”, are understandably encouraged by the passing of legislation designed to prevent the Johnson government from taking the UK out of the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement on 31st October. It would be going too far, however, to assume that a “no deal” Brexit has been definitively averted. The majority of MPs publicly or privately opposing Brexit should be giving urgent thought  on how to consolidate their advantage when Parliament reassembles in mid-October. It is obvious  that Johnson and his advisers will be actively seeking ways of thwarting the Parliamentary legislation, even including a simple refusal to obey the clear provisions of the law itself.

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Brexit: Moderate Conservative MPs must stop complaining and start acting

“We can tolerate neither our vices nor their cures”

(Livy, Roman historian, 1st century AD)

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

2nd September 2019

The recent unexpectedly lengthy prorogation of Parliament, carried out with brutal speed and secrecy, should be a salutary reminder to those hoping to prevent a “no deal” Brexit on 31st October of the range of powers the British government possesses to manipulate Parliamentary business. There is every sign that this ruthless and determined government intends to use these powers to the full over the coming months. The ramshackle constitutional and political arrangements of the British state, cruelly exposed by the Brexit process, will allow the cabal at the head of the present government ample opportunity to ride roughshod over Parliamentary opposition.

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The Anti-Brexit GNU: Essential, impossible, viable…?

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

12th August 2019

The arrival of Boris Johnson in Downing Street and the impending Article 50 deadline of 31st October have given a new sense of urgency to political players and observers, particularly among those opposed to Brexit. Specifically, it is increasingly accepted that if Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister on 31st October the UK will leave the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement; and that the most obvious way of preventing this will be to replace his government with another one. The hope has not been entirely abandoned that it may be possible by Parliamentary guerrilla warfare to prevent Johnson and his colleagues from crashing out of the EU with “no deal” at Halloween. But the political focus has now shifted towards the possibility of a Government of National Unity to seek at the very least an extension of the deadline for Brexit, a deadline which Johnson has staked his entire political credibility on meeting.

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Anti-Brexit forces have five weeks to decide on how to defeat ‘no deal’

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

30th July 2019

It was a disappointment to many that the Labour Party and those Conservative MPs opposed to a “no deal” Brexit did so little last week to oppose the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. The summer recess will, however, allow both Labour and moderate Conservative MPs a pause for reflection on their best way forward. If they can use this for profitable discussion, it will not be too late for them to mount an effective campaign of resistance when Parliament reassembles in early September. The foundations of this resistance must, however, be laid in the coming month. Every wasted day that passes makes more likely a catastrophic “no deal” Brexit on 31st October.

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Brexit – By Royal Appointment?

by Dr Andrew Blick
Senior Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

12th July 2019

Uncertainty is a constant and deleterious feature of the Brexit experience. The prospect that the United Kingdom (UK) might – or might not – soon be leaving the European Union (EU), on terms and at a date that are uncertain, is a source of immense destabilisation. It has many manifestations, for instance in the realm of economics and trade. One area in which Brexit has both exposed and augmented ambiguity involves the rules according to which the political system itself functions: the constitution. It has created doubts about the place of the different components of the UK within the Union and the position of the devolved institutions. It has raised uncertainties about the future operation of the legal system; and about the relationship between the UK executive and the Westminster Parliament. The latest instalment in this prolonged period of systemic ambiguity and instability pertains to the tenure of prime ministers.

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The Brexit Revolution Eats Its Conservative Parents

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

9th July 2019

Much justified criticism has been heaped upon Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt for the unrealistic European policies they have promised the Conservative membership in the current leadership contest. It is not however always sufficiently understood how necessary such unrealistic promises are in order to win over the current Conservative membership; and how important these promises will be, once given, for the European policies pursued in government by Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt.

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After the fall: governing the UK in the post-May era

by Dr Andrew Blick
Senior Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

13th June 2019

By the end of July, at the latest, the Conservative Party will have a new leader. That person, it is widely assumed, will also be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK). Who they are and the terms on which they ascend to and exercise their office will have substantial consequences for the future of the UK and its relationship with the European Union (EU). The following paper considers the form which that leadership is likely to take and the implications from the perspective of Brexit. It then asks what constraints that new office-holder will be subject to. It considers the extent to which Parliament will be able to impose itself upon the government and achieve a different approach towards the EU, if it wishes. Finally, it discusses other means by which those within Parliament and beyond might try to alter the course taken by the UK under the successor to May.

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