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Boris Johnson or the Betrayal of Democracy

Boris Johnson or the Betrayal of Democracy
 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

On Monday 2nd September, Boris Johnson has chosen to issue a final Brexit ultimatum and promised to call snap elections if rebel MPs succeed in passing a bill to delay Brexit. In the same vein, the suspension of the British Parliament a few weeks before the date set for Brexit was already a mistake according to our Special Advisor Dominique Moïsi. Contrary to the very spirit of checks and balances, it illustrates the situation of a country that has entered a spiral of political failure, to the point where the very belief in representative democracy is undermined.

Has Great Britain become a failed state? That was the question asked a few days ago by Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last governor, in a particularly strong editorial published by Project Syndicate.

What would he say today after Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament for almost five weeks? This opportunistic poker move is not as such a violation of the "letter" of the balance of power as it exists in Britain.There have been precedents. Sometimes the work of Parliament is suspended at the request of the Prime Minister for a few days at the end of the summer, when the annual congresses of the major political parties are held.

But doing so for almost five weeks and on the eve of the most important deadline Britain has seen in decades, if not since the end of the Second World War, is a betrayal of the spirit of the institutions of the "mother of democracies".

Britain, a "failed state"?

The term "failed state" traditionally applies to countries in Africa or Latin America and refers to the mixture of incompetence and corruption of leaders. To compare Great Britain, the country that for centuries gave lessons in democracy to the world, with President Nicolás Maduro's Venezuela is of course excessive. But since David Cameron's failed referendum bet, Britain seems to have been sucked into a spiral of political failure, bringing down in its downfall its belief in representative democracy.

Since David Cameron's failed referendum bet, Britain seems to have been sucked into a spiral of political failure, bringing down in its downfall its belief in representative democracy.

David Cameron, Theresa May and now, icing on the cake, Boris Johnson! If the expression "betrayal of the intellectuals", the very beautiful title of the book written by Julien Benda in 1927, applies in the contemporary world, it is indeed to Great Britain. Not so long ago, The Economist magazine described Brexit as the "Waterloo" of Oxford's social elites. The team Boris Johnson surrounded himself with seems to be breaking records for arrogance and ignorance of reality.

Some of its members seem - through the traditionalism of their clothes, if not through the language of their bodies - to have come straight out of photo albums from the late 1940s. Did they just partition India or are they about to break up Britain? Far from rejoicing at the avatars - the expression of disasters would be more accurate - that the "treacherous Albion" is going through, the friends and partners of the United Kingdom should worry about its future and that of Europe, if not more generally about that of democracy itself. From peacekeeping in Ireland to the issue of unity with Scotland, everything suddenly seems to be called into question by the claims of some Brexiters wishing to give the impression that a renegotiation with the Union of most of the terms of Brexit is still possible.

Johnson and Salvini syndrome

All scenarios are open.  Like Matteo Salvini, Boris Johnson could lose his bet. The Italian agitator counted on the support of public opinion, confirmed by favourable polls, and on the division of his opponents. He would provoke new elections and thus govern alone or almost alone. He is now in difficulty and perhaps for a long time to come: unless he tries, like Mussolini before him, to do some "march on Rome". Boris Johnson may also find himself outvoted by a vote of no-confidence in a Parliament that has difficulty digesting, all parties combined, having been suspended for nearly five weeks. Certainly the prospect of seeing an archaic socialist like Jeremy Corbyn succeed Boris Johnson can curb many indignations. But what is at stake is simply the future - not only of Britain's relations with the European Union - but of parliamentary democracy, which deserves a sacred union in the “Italian way": "all against Johnson".

The indignation of the majority of British parliamentarians against what amounts to a legal coup d'état is very real. Public opinion may have a dim view of a Parliament that has not been able to reach agreement in recent months. But in terms of historical references, there are more Oliver Cromwell than Winston Churchill, in Boris Johnson's words: a Cromwell with no puritanism at all, of course!Indeed, probably never since the seventeenth century have British institutions been so disrupted.

Probably never since the seventeenth century have British institutions been so disrupted.

Enough is enough!

An anger reflex may have led men as different as Salvini, Bolsonaro, Trump or Johnson to power. A reflex of common sense, if not survival, can also play against them. In Great Britain, the country of Edmund Burke - the author of the "Reflections on the French Revolution" - moderation is a traditionally sought-after quality. David Cameron and Theresa May were "too little". Boris Johnson is simply "too much".Surfing on his failures and half-truths - exclusively obsessed with his ambition to become Prime Minister - Boris Johnson saw in Brexit the opportunity to achieve his goals. His transition to power must be as brief as possible. The British do not know who will govern them tomorrow, nor what the price will be for them if they leave the European Union, probably without agreement. (It should prove to be three to four times more expensive for them than for EU Member States).

Fortunately, the citizens of the United Kingdom still hold on to the idea that at the end of the 21st century, Prince George, Queen Elizabeth's great-grandson, could ascend to the Windsor throne. A few grams of stability in a world of bullies.

With the permission of  Les Echos (published 30/08/2019)

Copyright : Ben STANSALL / AFP

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