Maybe this could be called … Jexit? Imagine if Bobby Kennedy had resigned in protest after JFK’s bad leadership in the Bay of Pigs disaster. That might be the closest hypothetical parallel to Jo Johnson’s sudden resignation from his older brother Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. Not only did Johnson the Younger quit, but he made it clear that he has no confidence in Johnson the Elder’s leadership:
After suffering a humiliating series of Brexit defeats in Parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was dealt a new blow Thursday morning by an unlikely source: his little brother.
Jo Johnson announced he was quitting the government and standing down as a member of Parliament, becoming the latest casualty in the war over whether and how the U.K. leaves the European Union.
“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest,” Johnson, who was a minister in his brother Boris’ Cabinet, said on Twitter. “It’s an unresolvable tension and time for others to take on my roles as MP and minister.”
“He’s killed him,” the BBC reports as the reaction to JoJo’s very public exit among other Conservatives. That may be wishful thinking, but it comes at a very difficult time for Boris, who has lost his parliamentary majority and a series of votes on Brexit this week. According to the BBC, JoJo got fed up with BoJo’s purge of longstanding Tories after they refused to support his prorogation of Parliament and the race to an election. His resignation makes prospects for that election look less and less promising.
Speaking of which, the Guardian reports that JoJo’s not the only Tory disgusted over the purge. Johnson may have split the party badly enough that they can’t possibly get a majority on their own in the upcoming election:
There is mounting anger in the Conservative party at the expulsion of 21 anti no-deal rebels and the role played in the “purge” by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s de facto chief of staff.
One Tory backbencher, Simon Hoare, said there was “deep disquiet” in the party after the Tory whip was removed from the 21 rebels and they were barred from standing in the next election. …
Damian Green, the former cabinet minister and leader of the One Nation group of Conservatives, called for the reinstatement of the expelled 21 rebels.
Speaking to the BBC on Thursday, he said: “I’m afraid it does look as though somebody has decided that the moderate, progressive wing of the Conservative party is not wanted on voyage.
“That’s wrong in principle because there are many Conservative traditions, but it is terrible practical politics to narrow your appeal just before a general election.”
JoJo’s abrupt abandonment of his brother underscores that problem. The familial connections allowed Johnson’s critics to offer some wisecracks at his expense:
The opposition Labour party seized on his departure.
Deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted: “Once again, the people who trust Boris Johnson least are the ones who know him best.”
Pollster Joe Twyman tweeted: “It’s going to be a hell of a Christmas lunch in the Johnson household”.
BBC journalist David Cornock quipped: “A rare case of a politician resigning to spend less time with his family”
Before JoJo hit the bricks and took a valedictory swipe at BoJo, Daniel Hannan tried to assure Americans that an election would take place and Brexit would indeed happen. Parliament isn’t in the middle of a Brexit crisis, Hannan said, but in the middle of a democracy crisis. The real question, Hannan argues is whether Parliament will honor a referendum or not:
What of the shenanigans at Westminster? Well, one thing that I can state definitively is that they are not a “Brexit crisis.” Brexit, as you must have noticed, has not happened. What we are seeing is the opposite of a Brexit crisis, an “un-Brexit crisis,” a crisis caused by the refusal of MPs to do what they promised to do when they last stood for election.
As I write, the Opposition parties are seeking to overturn the referendum result. They don’t exactly phrase it like that, of course. Instead, they say that they don’t want to leave without a deal. But they know perfectly well that, if you rule out a “no-deal Brexit,” you rule out Brexit itself. If “no-deal” is off the table, then all Brussels has to do to keep Britain in the EU is continue to offer intolerable terms.
That cuts both ways, of course. Theresa May negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the EU that wasn’t “intolerable” to a near-majority of Parliament, but Johnson and others wanted to leave on their own terms — and while disregarding their sovereign commitments in the Good Friday Agreement. To Ireland and the rest of the EU, that was intolerable. After three years, Johnson and his hard-Brexit allies have yet to float a serious proposal to deal with that situation. If Hannan wants to complain about bad-faith negotiations, the EU has a stronger case to make.
On the election question, Hannan’s on better ground, but still not convincing:
On Wednesday afternoon, MPs passed a motion obliging the government to seek as many extensions as the EU wanted. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, responded by calling for a general election. Whereupon Labour, which has been demanding an immediate poll for two years, suddenly went cold on the idea. Under legislation passed in 2010, two thirds of MPs must agree to an early dissolution of Parliament. On Wednesday evening, Labour and the other opposition parties, looking at the opinion polls, voted against such a dissolution.
Yes, you read that correctly. The parties that have spent the past month accusing Johnson of mounting some sort of coup just voted to prevent him from subjecting his tenure to a national vote.
That is a rather perverse outcome, but that too is more or less of Boris Johnson’s making. The UK should have held elections after the failure of May’s Withdrawal Agreement to put the issue to voters in the normal democratic process. Instead, Johnson and the Brexiters insisted on keeping control of the government to push through a no-deal Brexit with the rump Tory coalition. Johnson then decided to prorogue Parliament to keep it from having any say at all in the final form of Brexit, which forced Parliament to react in the manner Hannan describes.
Hannan also says “voters are not stupid,” and predicts a Tory majority in the next election as they re-endorse the referendum:
No one can say how it will turn out, obviously, though the betting markets and the money markets are both predicting a Conservative majority. Such a majority would at last allow Britain to square up to the EU without being undermined.
Ahem. Theresa May thought the same thing when she called for snap elections in 2017, and the Tories lost their majority instead. Even so, their coalition has held the majority ever since, and they’ve been “squaring up” to the EU throughout. Hannan’s prediction could well come true anyway, but it relies on the assumption that Leavers all back a crash-out from the EU rather than a negotiated deal that maintains the economic status quo, and that none of them have changed their minds about Brexit over the last three years of futility. That’s a rather large assumption, given that Brexit only won by three points in 2016 and wasn’t predicated on a crash-out but on a negotiated exit.
Added to that, Boris Johnson wants an election at the same time that his country will have to make disaster preparations for a no-deal Brexit — while purging his party of incumbents who might be badly needed to establish that majority. Frankly, it’s tough to come up with a better scenario if one wanted to lose a national election on purpose. That might be why JoJo danced out of his big brother’s Cabinet today.