Even just before Boris Johnson was chosen on Tuesday to be the United Kingdom‘s next prime minister, he was being warned by some of the most senior members of his own party about the dangers of Brexit, and in particular his threat to pull the country out of the European Union without a withdrawal deal.
On the eve of Johnson’s widely anticipated victory in the internal vote among Conservative Party members, Alan Duncan quit as Foreign Office minister, telling the BBC that Johnson’s “fly by the seats of his pants, haphazard” style would see him run “smack into a crisis of government” over Brexit.
The criticism was particularly stinging given that Johnson, a former London mayor and foreign secretary, had been Duncan’s boss in that latter job. At least two other senior ministers, including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer – the cabinet minister in charge of the British economy – were also due to step down because of their opposition to Johnson’s promise to deliver Brexit.
Brexit and The Irish Border
Several former ministers also vowed to rebel against Johnson’s Brexit plans — a rebellion that could block it altogether given the government’s precarious majority.
And just in case there was any doubt about the challenges facing Johnson as he seeks to deliver on Brexit without triggering the deep economic recession that many economists, the International Monetary Fund and his own government’s Office for Budget Responsibility have predicted, the European Union clearly spelled it out to him.
One European commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, accused Johnson of “cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly evident incorrect statements.” Other senior EU officials reiterated that they will not renegotiate the Brexit deal reached with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May — effectively leaving the new prime minister with the choice of a no-deal Brexit or remaining within the EU.
As if that was not enough, The Times, predicted that Johnson’s rise to the premiership will do nothing to solve the arithmetical gridlock in the House of Commons that has so far thwarted Brexit. Daniel Finkelstein, a columnist at the right of center newspaper, added that Johnson will likely have little choice but to swiftly call an election — an outcome he had sworn to avoid, and one which will be fraught with uncertainty given the British electorate’s exasperation with traditional parties, including the ruling Conservatives.
The scale of the task facing Johnson was perhaps made clearest not by anti-Brexit politicians but the man who, arguably even more than Johnson, had been the architect of the surprise referendum result in 2016 in which a majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union; Nigel Farage.
Farage, who now leads the Brexit Party, tweeted that he wished Johnson “well” as prime minister, before adding: “Does he have the courage to deliver?” That tweet was obviously intended to prod Johnson towards honoring his campaign promises and quickly withdraw the U.K. from the EU, with or without a deal.
Yet the fact that Farage, among many other supporters and critics, seriously question whether Johnson can or will deliver Brexit, clearly shows how perilous a strategy, both politically and economically, Britain’s exiting the EU actually is.