Making the click-through worthwhile: A detailed explainer of the intense, unpredictable fight in the United Kingdom regarding Brexit and what steps come next; finally a bit of good news in Hong Kong; a bad deal with the Taliban doesn’t take long to get even worse; and a long-awaited new episode of the pop-culture podcast!
This Brexit Stuff Is Complicated, But It’s Reaching the Dramatic Climax
When it comes to Brexit, there are five people I turn to in order figure out what’s happening: John O’Sullivan, Daniel Hannan, Andrew Stuttaford, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Madeline Kearns is rapidly ascending into those top ranks.
The short version: Some of the Conservatives in Parliament are freaked out by the option of a “no-deal” Brexit, and yesterday voted to block that option, which more or less tied the hands of British prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s counter-maneuver is to call for new parliamentary elections — “snap elections” — that would more or less turn into a de facto second referendum on Brexit. Parliament will vote on whether to hold new elections today, and they’re expected to agree. If they do schedule one, it would be held sometime soon, as the October 31 deadline for a “no-deal” Brexit is now two months away. Kearns reports, “Knowing his audience, Johnson has assured MPs that it would be on October 14, the day of the Queen’s speech.”
The longer version . . .
You may recall that under Theresa May, the U.K. Parliament kept voting not to do anything, and rejecting every option it was offered. Just this year, Parliament held thirteen “meaningful votes” on various plans to execute the withdrawal from the European Union, and every single one of them lost; other than the votes that demanded the government come up with a new plan. The lawmakers rejected every deal for Brexit and the “no-deal” Brexit option.
Enter new Prime Minister Johnson, who initially wavered on Brexit, then endorsed it, and who has been pushing for it without an overabundance of details on how the withdrawal would work. Johnson sounded like he was ready to go ahead with the “no-deal” departure.
The “no-deal” option kicks in if no departure agreement is in place by Halloween. Under that scenario, every existing agreement, rule, and regulation with the EU disappears, and everybody has to replace them on the fly; a process that is likely to get messy, confusing, and perhaps lead to shortages of certain products in the U.K. as replacement agreements are hammered out. The British Retail Consortium contends that it is inevitable that food shipments will be delayed as new checks at the border create delays. “Soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuce, would likely see reduced availability as they are largely imported during the winter months.”
One of the bigger and thornier questions is how you handle the border between Northern Ireland, which as part of the United Kingdom would no longer be part of the EU, and the Republic of Ireland, which still be part of it. During “the Troubles,” the border crossings had checkpoints manned by the British military. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 started winding down the sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, and by 2005, the situation had improved enough for the checkpoints to evaporate. (Within the EU, you can travel from one country to another with no real interruptions; the trains from Germany to Austria don’t even announce when you’ve left one country and entered another. Picture taking Amtrak to Toronto.) People on both sides of the border, who have gotten used to traveling freely and easily over the past 15 years, worry about the return of customs inspectors and police and waiting in line.
But Daniel Hannan warns that if the British government takes the “no deal” option off the table, the European Union will take the country to the cleaners in the negotiations in the aftermath — after all, the U.K. would have effectively promised they would never walk away from the negotiating table. “[Members of Parliament] know that taking “no deal” off the table means taking Brexit off the table. All the E.U. has to do to keep us in is offer intolerable terms. Let’s call this what it is: an attempt by MPs, despite everything they promised, to overturn the referendum.”
Stuttaford warns, “A Brexit that involved severing the U.K.’s relationship with the E.U. in one abrupt move has never been the way to go.” He points to an argument that what the Leave voters really wanted was political independence from the EU’s decision-making process, not a complete cessation of all existing economic ties.
Michael Brendan Dougherty isn’t sure that if there is a new election, it will go so well for Johnson and the conservatives. The issue of Brexit didn’t split cleanly along party lines; there are Remain Conservatives who think the country is committing economic suicide, and there are Leave liberals. Conservative prime ministers have been pledging to get it done since the referendum in 2016, but they clearly don’t have enough votes in parliament to pass any particular plan. There’s a separate Brexit Party as well, headed by Nigel Farage; beyond Brexit, it supports cutting foreign aid, having British Steel part-owned by workers, and installing wi-fi on all public transportation.
Quite a few people think that Johnson’s secret weapon is the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who is an anti-Semitic Communist lunatic.
The Conservative Party already has their message: Voting for Johnson means “Brexit delivered on October 31,” while a vote for Corbyn means “more talk, delay, and indecision.” They’re gleefully pointing out that Corbyn has been saying for months that he wants a new general election — and now that they’re on the verge of getting it, they’re backing away.
One of the British politicians I like best, despite the fact that most U.K. conservatives can’t stand him, is former prime minister Tony Blair. He’s desperately trying to get his party to realize that they’re about to stumble into a national election with the one British leader who frightens the country more than a hard Brexit. “Boris Johnson knows that if no-deal Brexit stands on its own as a proposition it might well fail, but if he mixes it up with the Corbyn question in a general election, he could succeed despite a majority being against a no-deal Brexit because some may fear a Corbyn premiership more.”
John O’Sullivan thinks Johnson may attempt to finalize the “no-deal” departure from the EU before the new election. Some polling indicates that if he pulled it off, the public would be more likely to support Conservatives; certainly, the Brexit party would find its primary policy goal suddenly achieved.
Perhaps one of the lessons of all this is that when you hold a referendum and split 52 percent to 48 percent, enacting the wishes of the 52 percent is going to be extremely difficult because the opposition is nearly half the country.
Hong Kong’s Leader: Okay, Okay, We’ll Really Drop That Extradition Bill
Finally, some good news out of Hong Kong: “Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Wednesday that the government would withdraw a contentious extradition bill that ignited months of protests in the city, moving to quell the worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago.”
This move probably isn’t going to make all the protesters back up and go home. Push came to shove in the last couple of days, and at those pivotal moments, the Hong Kong police looked as brutal and thuggish as any authoritarian regime’s, with the whole world watching. It wasn’t that long ago that locals by and large trusted the police; that trust is gone. And without free and fair elections to select the leaders of Hong Kong, who’s to say that the extradition bill doesn’t come back in some modified form? Or that figures who particularly irk the Chinese government don’t start getting extradited in secret?
Over at Axios, Mike Allen declares, “this is a victory for democracy over the world’s largest totalitarian state.” To paraphrase Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction, let’s not start patting each other on the back quite yet. The formal withdrawal of the bill is a good first step — but this is still a situation where the Chinese government has a lot of leverage, and they’re patient.
You Cannot Trust the Taliban.
Let’s check in with our new partners in peace, the Taliban: “The Taliban on Tuesday defended their suicide bombing against an international compound in the Afghan capital that killed at least 16 people and wounded 119, almost all local civilians, just hours after a U.S. envoy said he and the militant group had reached a deal ‘in principle’ to end America’s longest war.”
You know what’s in the Green Village in Kabul? The Romanian Embassy and international aid organizations. They are promising us they will no longer work with terrorists while committing acts of terrorism.
The Taliban’s methods worked, by the way; locals in the neighborhood are tired of being targets and are violently protesting, demanding the foreign aid workers move somewhere else.
They’re as mad at the victims of the bombing as they are at the guys who built and detonated the bomb.
If the United States is to leave Afghanistan, we should do it on our own terms, with no pretense of “negotiating” with a malevolent force that demonstrates its bad faith and untrustworthiness every day. Leave with a promise: If the Taliban return to power and the country becomes a base of operations for anti-American terrorists again, then the United States will not invade like in 2001. If we must respond a second time, we will simply bomb targets of our choosing, over and over again, with no corresponding aid programs or relief efforts to help the country. We will not seek out allies on the ground or to establish a legitimate government that will attempt to govern by consensus or establish basic human rights. We will simply destroy whoever is in charge, leaving a lesson for whatever forces replace them.
ADDENDA: A new, extra-long version of the pop-culture podcast is out this morning! Mickey and I have a lot to say about that Dave Chappelle comedy special on Netflix that has the “Cancel Culture” crowd tearing their hair out; plus dissections of the other controversial offerings from the streaming service, like Mindhunter and 13 Reasons Why. I explain why I think that upcoming Joker movie is going to be an inadvertent moral disaster. Why try to figure out why those JUUL vapor devices seemed to change overnight from some new thing smokers were doing to Public Health Enemy Number One, and our NFL preview, with a lot more frostbite than either of us expected.