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What does Prime Minister Boris Johnson mean for Brexit?

Britain's newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, holds his first Cabinet meeting, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid and Secretary for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd, right, at Downing Street in London, Thursday July 25, 2019. Photo: Aaron Chown/Associated Press

By Louise K. Davidson-Schmich

Britain's newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, holds his first Cabinet meeting, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid and Secretary for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd, right, at Downing Street in London, Thursday July 25, 2019. Photo: Aaron Chown/Associated Press

What does Prime Minister Boris Johnson mean for Brexit?

By Louise K. Davidson-Schmich
Britain’s new populist leader has promised to separate the country from the European Union by Oct. 31.

Thursday marked Boris Johnson’s first day as British Prime Minister. He has promised Britain will leave the European Union by Oct. 31, but will Johnson be able to deliver on his Brexit promise? The answer depends on two other key players: the British Parliament and the European Union (EU).

In the United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) parliamentary system, Johnson ascended to his current position not by being directly elected by the British people, but by being selected by members of his Conservative Party to serve as Prime Minister. He may remain as long as he has the support of a majority of the members of the British House of Commons (Parliament). Currently, the Conservatives do not have a majority and must cooperate with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to give Johnson his majority.

Members of Parliament currently agree on very little but one thing they do appear to agree on is that they a) do not like the current Brexit deal being offered by the EU, but b) that they also do not want to leave the EU without any deal at all. The DUP is particularly concerned with the provisions of the current Brexit deal regarding the future status of Northern Ireland; however, a no-deal Brexit might make the situation even worse. The Bank of England and the U.K.’s Office of Budget Responsibility both warn a no-deal Brexit would have a strong negative impact on the British economy.

The EU has spent two years negotiating a Brexit deal with former Prime Minister Theresa May, and they have stated clearly that the current deal is the best one the U.K. can get. The EU’s European Commission maintains it will not renegotiate with Johnson. If the U.K. does not accept the EU’s Brexit deal by Oct. 31, Britain will be cut out of the European Union—preserving none of the advantages of being in the bloc.

This state of affairs placed former PM May between a rock and a hard place, leading her to resign.

Johnson’s situation is no different. He called on the EU to renegotiate but they are unlikely to do so. He has also pondered using a rule allowing him to shut down parliamentary business for two weeks in late October to allow the no-deal Brexit to go through. This option might trigger a parliamentary vote of no confidence, leading him to be removed as prime minister.

It is difficult to predict what Johnson will do next. Like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson is a populist leader who has little time for nuanced discussion of policy positions or facts—he was fired from a newspaper job for fabricating stories, and will likely prefer governing by making controversial statements. If the EU doesn’t change its mind and Parliament doesn’t remove him, Johnson will indeed be the prime minister pulling the United Kingdom out of the European Union, the bloc that has ensured peace and prosperity in Western Europe since the end of World War II.

Louise K. Davidson-Schmich is a professor of political science in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences. She regularly teaches Introduction to Comparative Politics, Western European Politics and Government, and Comparative Political Economy of Post-Industrial Democracies.