UK Politics: From Tories to US Democrats - critics round on Johnson

  • Max Liu
  • 3 mins 30 min read
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Could a Biden victory be bad news for Boris Johnson?

Boris Johnson's plans to break international law have been condemned by his own MPs, ex-PMs and more. But will it damage his government's popularity with voters? asks Max Liu...

"On the Exchange the Conservatives are 3.1511/5 to win a majority at the next general election – a marginally shorter price than this time last week."

I told you UK politics would be lively this autumn. What I hadn't counted on, last weekend when I wrote "Brexit is back", was that events would explode this week with the British government threatening to break international law.

The uproar began on Tuesday when secretary of state for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said the government would break the law "in a specific and limited way" by introducing their internal market bill that overrides part of the Brexit withdrawal deal that Boris Johnson signed up to last year.

Johnson and Cummings take on familiar foes with latest gamble

The EU threatened legal action if the legislation is not removed by the end of the month. Trade talks could break down and make it impossible to agree a deal by the end of the Brexit transition period in December.

At home, criticism of the government carried on into the weekend with Tony Blair and John Major today calling the government's plans "wrong in principle and dangerous in practice." In a joint article they said: "It questions the very integrity of our nation."

May in Brussels 956.jpg

Former- Tory leaders Michael Howard and Theresa May were similarly critical of Johnson. Labour say they will oppose the bill if it isn't amended and there are reported to be growing numbers of Tory MPs who are prepared to vote against the government. Yesterday Tory MP Tobias Ellwood tweeted:

Elsewhere the odds on a no deal Brexit plummeted to their shortest price ever.

On the Exchange, however, the Conservatives are 3.1511/5 to win a majority at the next general election - a marginally shorter price than this time last week.

Which begs the question - does any of this really do any harm to Johnson? After all, of the grandees who tore into the government this week, many of them are familiar foes and Howard is the only Brexiteer.

There's a sense of déjà vu about the whole affair. Seeing Blair and Major team up to warn of the dangers posed by Johnson's latest gamble - just as they did to no avail for the Remain campaign in 2016 - I wonder if they're giving Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings exactly what they want.

The government's plan to break international law, greeted with outrage by the usual establishment suspects, has echoes of Johnson's prorogation of parliament last autumn. That was deemed unlawful by the supreme court, critics hailed the ruling and said Johnson had been discredited. A couple of months later he went to the country and won an 80-seat majority.

Johnson should be wary of alienating US Democrats

Is picking fights with the establishment, at home and abroad, a sustainable strategy for the government? In the end, probably not. After all, leading figures in the American Democratic Party, including Nancy Pelosi, said they would not make a trade deal with the UK if Brexit threatens the Northern Ireland peace process. Of course, that only matters if they Democrats win November's presidential election.

You can get up to date and in-depth coverage of the US election betting from Paul Krishnamurty but what does this autumn's race for the White House mean for the UK?

Joe Biden is 1.865/6 to win and, while Donald Trump 2.226/5 has enjoyed a resurgence in the polling and betting recently, I've long thought that a Biden victory would be bad news for Johnson.

All countries have a lot at stake in the US election and, seeing Trump defeated, would send a message to the rest of the world that the age of populist disruption is over. Trump has deliberately damaged US-EU relations, and sees Brexit as his ideological bedfellow, but Biden would rebuild bridges between Washington and Brussels which could leave an antagonistic UK isolated.

As Tory prime ministers, Johnson and Major have little in common but the former should remember what happened to the latter: in 1992, the then UK prime minister Major supported the incumbent George HW Bush in that year's presidential election. The Democrat challenger Bill Clinton defeated Bush, never forgave Major and became an ally of Tony Blair who trounced Major's government at the general election in 1997.

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