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Think Outside the Box, Boris!

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Last week's parliamentary coup against Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson puts Brexit at risk, and not for the first time.

Once again, the Sceptred Isle's ruling class, the “Upper Ten Thousand,” pumped the brakes on the reestablishment of their nation's independence...and on democracy itself. There is a very real danger that, without the leverage provided by the threat of no-deal Brexit, the EU will never offer Britain a satisfactory form of Brexit and therefore, after more dithering, Parliament will pull the plug altogether.

These are dark days for Brexiteers, but, as the saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn. Boris has it in his power to set the situation right.

How can he do it?

The Prime Minister could simply refuse to act as last week's bill bade him. In other words, he could, as P.M., neglect to submit a request for another Brexit extension to the EU. This would put him at odds with an Act of Parliament. The courts, or the Queen, might be called upon to resolve the impasse. Such a resolution could be quickly dispensed, or it could take weeks or months — and, in the interim, a no-deal Brexit would have been secured. This is not a perfect option, but it is an option.

Alternatively, the Prime Minister could propose a bill to set a date for a snap election in mid-October. It is within the power of Parliament to pass a bill — by a simple majority — to hold an election on a specific date. If all confusion about the date was thus eliminated, it would be very hard for opposition parties to object to a new election. Most polls, moreover, give the Conservatives an excellent chance to win. A fortified majority would give Boris Johnson a stronger hand in negotiations with the EU, and it would minimize the danger of additional elite pontificating designed to dither, delay, and thus forestall the people's will.

I would like to propose another, even more inventive path for the Prime Minister to consider. Almost all parties to the Brexit fiasco have so far made the same mistake: they have interpreted any potential Brexit deal as an all-or-nothing affair. In other words, they assume that either Britain can leave the EU with a deal or without one. Moreover, the elite media and insider politicians have been saying for ages that the no-deal scenario would be a “catastrophe” — thus, Parliament's coup against Boris last week.

The reality, though, is more complicated. The exit deal that Theresa May's government struck with the EU (and which Parliament steadfastly refused to pass) includes 585 pages, divided into almost 200 Articles, a series of important Protocols, and 10 lengthy Annexes. It is, in other words, an immensely complex document, but the key point is that the vast majority of it excites no controversy whatsoever. The sticking points are in thorny areas like the U.K.'s future relationship with the EU customs union, and the status of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.

The Prime Minister therefore has the opportunity to break up Theresa May's Brexit agreement into its component parts, and submit portions of the document (previously approved by the EU) to Parliament for passage into law. He could, meanwhile, hold back those portions that offend his Brexiteer base. This would have the effect of allowing a no-deal, or total, Brexit to occur by default in areas like the customs union, if the EU was not amenable to new arrangements that were more in Britain's interests. Meanwhile, in other, less controversial areas, Theresa May's “soft” Brexit would go ahead.

Consider this scenario carefully. In effect, the Prime Minister would be saying to Parliament, “You don't like the sound of no-deal? Fine. Then kindly pass into law these, oh, 150 Articles, now presented to you as separate bills, to avoid the vast majority of the negative consequences of no-deal.”

Parliament would have two unenviable choices: refuse to pass the bills, and thus implicate itself in a potential no-deal Brexit of the full-on variety, or pass them, thus playing Boris Johnson's game, neutralizing the bogeyman of no-deal, while at the same time making inevitable a “hard” Brexit in the areas most critical to the Prime Minister and his Brexiteer supporters.

If Parliament passed even one of Boris' mini-deals into law, moreover, he could consider his obligations to seek an extension of the Brexit negotiations, spelled out in the Act passed last week, fulfilled. Why? Because that Act requires him to ask for an extension only if a “deal” has not been affirmed by Parliament before mid-October. Technically, in this scenario, a deal would have been done — it just wouldn't have been all-encompassing.

These machinations are not simple and straightforward, it is true. They would, however, be within the letter of the law, and they would permit the Prime Minister to achieve Brexit — a real, meaningful Brexit — on his preferred date, October 31st, while at the same time exasperating his parliamentary enemies.

With Brexit in his back pocket, Boris could look forward to the “broad, sunlit uplands” of a new election, followed by Conservative dominance of a truly independent Britain for years to come.

Think outside the box, Boris! You are, if you only knew it, on the cusp of a historic victory.

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