The Lede
www.thelede.in
Boris Johnson with Dili, the puppy
Boris Johnson with Dili, the puppy|Photo credit: Metro
Write-In

Pet Puppies Win UK Elections!

Though the pets provided much needed relief, the road ahead for the UK is riddled with strife

TP Sreenivasan

TP Sreenivasan

According to the British media, the elections in the UK was won not by Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, but by Dili the puppy, who escorted Johnson to the polling booth.

The UK has, literally, gone to the dogs, to add some pep to the otherwise boring elections with a deceptively single platform: Brexit or no Brexit.

The dogged determination of Johnson to “get the Brexit done” has got him the largest majority in years, although what awaits him is not a bed of roses.

No one knows how he is going to keep the deadline of 31 January 2020 to exit from the European Union. But the love and adoration that the pet dogs received during the election may turn out to be permanent.

Most political leaders and ordinary voters carried their dogs to the polling booths this time. They were not allowed into the booths themselves, but they stood sentinel to their masters outside when they exercised their franchise.

The canine involvement in the election, regardless of political affiliations received much public attention. Even the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, carried his pet dog to the polling booth.

The Britons are generally fond of animals, but dogs are the hot favourites.

“Election day usually brings good dogs everywhere to polling stations across Britain. But this time the tradition took a more inclusive turn, featuring reindeer, horses and even a giant tortoise named Yoda. Although dogs clearly held a solid majority this time, dominating social media with Santa hats and festive collars, sightings of unexpected animals also delighted many voters who had stepped out on a dismal, overcast day to cast their ballots during a time of deep political uncertainty,” wrote the Washington Post.

This is the third general election in four years in the country, and many voters have grown tired of lawmakers bickering over the future of Britain and Brexit - the divisive issue at the centre of the snap election. For many, the pets provided some light relief during a stressful and tense period.

It is not at all certain whether the election results will lead to a satisfactory and peaceful exit of the UK from the European Union on the promised date of 31 January 2020.

But Johnson has moved swiftly to introduce a Bill in the House of Commons within a week, adding a new clause to rule out any extension to the transition period beyond the end of next year.

This raises the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal. But senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove insisted both the UK and the EU had “committed themselves to making sure that we have a deal” by the end of 2020.

A full discussion on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill has also been promised. But the opposition fears that Johnson will bow to all the demands of the EU in his eagerness to have a quick exit.

The government plans to ask the new Parliament to have its first debate and vote on the Withdrawal Agreement - the legislation needed to ratify Brexit this week. Johnson is expected to get the bill into law with few changes in time for the UK to end its EU membership on 31 January.

The government will then have until the end of the transition period on 31 December to negotiate a free trade agreement with Brussels before the trade relationship defaults to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.

One positive outcome of the elections is the sudden transformation of Johnson from a Trump-like whimsical personality into a responsible and thoughtful leader, though he continues to be over optimistic.

The European Union appears to have faith in him, though there is no clarity yet of the final outcome. What is certain is that Brexit will not be reversed by another referendum even though it is not clear how Johnson will deal with the ghosts in the Pandora’s box that Brexit will release.

A serious question being asked is whether Johnson will be the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, given the fact that both Scotland and Northern Ireland do not relish the prospect of Brexit without sufficient guarantees for themselves.

The Scottish leaders have already spoken of another referendum. Northern Ireland has their own options open. Developments in these areas will pose more difficulties to Johnson and his government after Brexit.

The forces unleashed by Brexit may well end up with the break-up of the United Kingdom!

In Scotland, the Fraser of Allander Institute said that the UK’s departure from the EU would shatter the Yes campaign’s past assurances that independence would be marked by “continuity”. Instead, the economic proposition for independence would “be more radical on issues such as currency, customs and fiscal policy” than five years ago, the think tank said.

Scottish leaders had previously refused to rule out customs checks if Brexit and independence combined to create a hard border between Scotland and England, one country inside Europe and the other out.

SNP leader Ms Sturgeon is expected to repeat her demand for a second independence referendum in 2020, saying election results formed a “watershed moment for Scotland” that Boris Johnson cannot ignore. She said, “The SNP’s mandate for an independence referendum is stronger than any mandate Boris Johnson claims for his Brexit deal. He asserts a mandate to take the whole of the UK, including Scotland, out of the EU, on a lower share of seats and votes than the SNP won in Scotland.”

If an independent Scotland joined the EU, and the rest of the UK was outside it, this would likewise create trade and border issues not considered in 2014, as the open border with England would become an external EU border.

“We are about to leave the EU and Scotland needs to be in a position, if it is to ever have another referendum, to make a rational decision about whether or not staying in the Union is the right thing or leaving is the right thing. To do that we have to complete Brexit first, things have to settle down again,” said a Scottish leader.

The implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland have been under discussions, but nothing concrete has emerged. Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have suggested creating an all-Ireland national forum to consider the implications of Brexit.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron says a Brexit could mean new Irish border controls or “some sort of checks” as people left Belfast to go to the rest of the UK. The challenge in the months ahead will be to ensure the big picture divide between the parties over both the future of the EU and the UK doesn’t paralyse the task of trying to alleviate the practical impact of Brexit on ordinary citizens.

The collective sigh of relief over the election results and confidence that Johnson will fix it all may still prove illusory.

If it does, what will remain of the elections will be the increased stature of pet puppies in the United Kingdom.