10 facts about the new British government you didn’t want to know
Britain’s new Prime Minister of little over a month has been on a mini European tour this week. Merkel gave him 30 days to come up with a new backstop that can’t be, whilst Macron was all smiles but insisted the backstop is ‘indispensable’. This charismatic entertainer of a PM with little care for detail but a lust for high office (among other things) lapped up to both like a golden retriever. Think Trump with Putin and less fake-tan but more charm.
But Boris’s European masquerade is more show than substance. The new government he has formed promises to deliver Brexit by 31 October do or die, deal or no deal. Johnson insists he wants to leave the EU with a deal and that the one negotiated by the former Prime Minister Theresa May is dead.
He therefore wants a new deal, but there’s a catch: The EU say there is no new deal to be had. Johnson says the Irish backstop must go, meanwhile EU leaders demand it stays. With both sides reluctant to compromise it leaves the UK drifting towards an EU exit that is both chaotic and unpredictable. So, here are 10 facts about the Johnson administration and some key people in it. We may find some shocking and others simply ludicrous, however they are all truly serious.
0.34% of the electorate could vote for it
Yes, 0.34% represents the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party who were eligible to vote in the leadership contest out of a total UK electorate of 47 million. Britain is a parliamentary democracy in which the government is formed from the political party winning the most seats in Parliament. Therefore, it is the party not the individual that leads it that holds the authority granted by the Queen to form a government.
This means that despite the fact that Prime Minister Johnson is very different to former Prime Minister May, 99.67% of British voters had zero say over who the next leader of the country would be. The Vote Leave campaign slogan may have been ‘Take back control’, yet it seems this does not apply to choosing Britain’s next Prime Minister.
Its Brexit policy goes against peace in Northern Ireland
This is because a no deal Brexit would create a hard border between a Northern Ireland out of the EU and a Republic of Ireland inside the EU. This is a problem because some people in Northern Ireland identify as British want to be part of the UK, whilst the rest feel Irish and identify with the Republic of Ireland. There used to be violence because of it, known as ‘The Troubles’, which ended in 1998 with the signing of ‘The Good Friday Agreement’. It led to peace through a power sharing assembly between the disputing parties – and critically the removal of installations on the border. Today, you only notice which side you are on by the road signs.
However, with the government insisting the UK will leave the EU without a deal if necessary and that it will not sign up to any new deal unless the Backstop is removed. Therefore, no-deal becomes a likely scenario, and anything built on the subsequent border will heighten tensions and ignite the violence of the past.
The 18th Century is back
It really is. This is because Jacob Rees-Mogg has been appointed to the government as Leader of the House of Commons, making him responsible for organising government business. The MP of 9 years is nicknamed ‘The member of parliament for the 18th Century’ – and for good reason. Before his appointment, he was famous for his love of the longest word ever to be spoken in Parliament: ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’.
One of the first actions in his new role was to distribute a set of rules to his team telling them which words they shouldn’t use. Included in the list of banned words and phrases are ‘disappointment’, ‘very’, ‘no longer fit for purpose’, and ‘unacceptable’. If this wasn’t enough, all non-titled males must be addressed ‘Esq.’ [Esquire]. Unfortunately for Rees-Mogg, despite his reputation for eccentric eloquence usually being tolerated by his parliamentary colleagues, the latest episode was clearly a step too far for some, including Tom Brake MP who quipped back his reaction with a thinly veiled cryptic tweet.
The Prime Minister favours profanity
The office of Prime Minister is a serious one. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the person fulfilling it serious too. Not so. Boris Johnson has a long history of using language that is colorful at best and downright grotesque at worst. Here is just a sample. In just March of this year the then backbench MP was on LBC Radio. When asked a question on the link between budget cuts and the rise in crime he answered that the problem was the wasting of Police time and money: ’£60 million I saw was being spaffed up the wall on some investigation into historic child abuse’. If you are unsure about the meaning of ‘spaffed’ simply google it.
Moreover, in a column for The Telegraph last August he described women wearing the burka as ‘looking like letter-boxes’. As for his statements on the troubled Arab world, as Foreign Secretary he used a party conference speech to declare the Libyan city of Sirte would be full of luxury resorts once we simply ‘cleared the dead bodies away’.
His chief advisor wants to break the system
By ‘the system’, we mean the civil service who run the government machine, the political parties who compete in the Parliament and many of the MPs who sit in it. Dominic Cummings, the new senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris and former director of the Vote Leave campaign which won the 2016 Brexit referendum wants to break all of the above. Writing on his blog earlier this year about a group of pro-Brexit MPs, he wished them to be treated ‘like a metastasising tumor and excised from the UK body-politic’.
He follows this up with an attack on the remaining elements, arguing he will ensure that ‘the malign grip of the parties and civil service is broken’. In short, system breakdown the endgame here.
£100m is to be spent on Brexit ads for a no-deal nobody wants
This is the biggest UK government advertising campaign since the Second World War – to advertise an outcome that the government says it doesn’t want. Nonetheless, over the next 3 months this money will be spent on informing the British public how best to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. If we think this is a lot of money, it’s nothing compared with the £2bn allocated to preparing for no-deal as whole. One comfort is that there isn’t enough time to spend it all. Again, all this money for an outcome it says it doesn’t want and which the Prime Minister has described as having ‘a million to one’ chance of becoming reality.
It is strange then, that just a day earlier that Michael Gove, the minister leading no-deal preparations said that no-deal is now ‘assumed’ by the government. To surmise, the government doesn’t want it but is also assuming it – and spending £100m advertising for it.
The Foreign Secretary wanted to shut Parliament
True. Dominic Raab, now Foreign Secretary, then a Conservative Party leadership candidate against Boris Johnson, said he would not rule out shutting down or ‘proroguing’ Parliament to force through a no-deal Breixt on deadline day if Parliament tried to stop him. In fact, Prime Minister Johnson has also refused to rule it out but has said it is not his preferred option.
Interesting fact: when the then monarch Charles I prorogued Parliament in the 17th century it didn’t go all too well. It started a civil war, which ended in his beheading. Just saying.
The Home Secretary liked the death penalty but not gay rights
The new Home Secretary is called Priti Patel. She used to be International development Secretary but was fired for having secret meetings with Israeli politicians in 2017. Until 2017 she refused to say whether she still believed in capital punishment after arguing on live TV in 2011 ‘I would support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent’. Nonetheless, in 2015 after consistent pressure she finally broke and said ‘No’ she’d changed her mind.
Yet, before considering her credentials we should know her record on gay rights. She votes against them. In 2013, she twice voted against allowing same sex couples to marry. What is more in the same year the Conservative MP voted against making it illegal to discriminate based on caste and in 2016 voted for repealing the Human Rights Act. And if that wasn’t the the perfect cherry for a rather distasteful cake, Patel has more recently announced the expansion of ‘stop and search’ police powers that disproportionately target black men. Overall, when it comes to her human rights record there’s little that makes for positive reading.
Dark money fills the Cabinet
Dark money and private lobby interests surround many in the new Cabinet. Ministers who control key areas of government policy have histories with certain lobby groups calling into question their ability to carry out their role with impartiality. First, the housing minister, Esther McVey. She was employed recently as a senior consultant for lobbyists Hume Brophy, who in turn presently employ a former Conservative MP to advise the Floreat Group. This group aims to fulfill the interests of ‘ultra high net worth clients’ and has a particular interest in real-estate – an area which as housing minister McVey will have significant control over.
Home Secretary Patel and Health Secretary Hancock suffer under scrutiny too. As a former consultant for Weber and Shandwick one of Patel’s clients were British American Tobacco, meanwhile after her secret 2017 meeting with Netanyahu, she asked if her department could give money to an Israeli project in the Golan Heights (in which the UK does not recognise Israel’s presence). As for Hancock, he accepted £4,000 in 2016 from a board member of the pro-NHS privatising think tank, the IEA.
Brexit means Brexit
After all of this, the fact you probably did know: Brexit still very much means Brexit. Originally this meant that by law the UK would leave the EU on 31 March 2019. Then it was extended once to 12 April and finally twice to the current deadline of 31 October. Therefore, whether or not an agreement is reached with the EU, this is the date when Brexit really becomes Brexit. Overnight, all of the rules, laws and institutions of EU membership will no longer apply and the UK will be treated like any other non-EU member state unless a deal has been agreed and passed by both UK and EU Parliaments.