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Brexit Latest: Could Boris Johnson Be Impeached?

  • By Partner Editorials Sep 17, 2019, 7:32 am4.7k pts

    All of us who follow political news has seen the word 'impeachment' regularly used on news broadcasts for much of the last few years. Almost exclusively, it's been used in relation to sitting United States President Donald J. Trump. Various sections of the media - and several prominent Democrats - have been calling for the impeachment of Trump almost since the moment he took office. It's even back in the news this week (and might be a more realistic threat now than ever before), but Trump if Trump has impeachment worries, he now has somebody to discuss them with who should know exactly how he's feeling. It's his new best friend from across the pond, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

    'Impeachment' isn't a word that gets used a lot in relation to British politicians. The United Kingdom has one of the oldest and most celebrated democracies in the world, and has had a Prime Minister since 1721. Robert Walpole was the first man ever to hold the office. Since then, 55 individuals have served under England's Kings and Queens as elected heads of state, and not one of them has ever been impeached. The Johnson administration - and Johnson in particular - might be about to make history.

    Why Is This Being Talked About?

    If you know anything at all about British politics, you may already have guessed that this is all to do with Brexit. Johnson won his current role based on a promise to get the United Kingdom out of the European Union with or without a 'deal' regarding the future relationship between the two entities, and he promised to do it by the 31st of October. That's the day the current deadline to reach an agreement expires. If no deal has been reached by that point, the UK will leave the EU without a deal, and nobody really knows what will happen next.

    Even those who advocate for the 'no deal' scenario accept that there will be a period of disruption. Those who have campaigned against it say that the disruption will include a complete freeze on imports and exports, heavy tariffs when trade resumes, medicine and food shortages, and the grounding of all planes heading to and from the country because of legal issues. The UK has been in the EU for such a long time that in many cases, EU law is UK law. Without an agreement being struck, there's simply no agreed basis for the UK to continue conducting trade and transport across the continent.

    It's worthwhile to note that Johnson - and many members of his party - do not agree with this doomsday perspective. While they admit it wouldn't be an ideal scenario, they feel it would be survivable. Nobody seems to know for sure, and so allowing the UK to leave the EU without a deal would be a gamble. It wouldn't be as predictable as a bet on a game of cards, either. With a card game, you can make an informed guess on what your opponent might be holding, and what you might stand to win or lose. A No-Deal Brexit is more like playing vegas slots online. When someone puts money into a mobile slots game, they have no way of knowing how their bet will turn out. They also have little way of improving the chances of a bet turning in their favor. For mobile slots players, that's part of the appeal - your next big win might be right around the corner, and chasing it is fun. You would never stake your life savings on mobile slots or similar casinos, though, and nor would it seem to make much sense to do the same thing with the economic prosperity of the United Kingdom.

    With the above in mind, British politicians overruled Johnson in the House of Commons last week, passing a new bill which requires Johnson to request an extension to the current Brexit deadline if an agreement hadn't been reached by the 17th of October. 21 MPs from his own party were fired for voting with the rebel group. Johnson has now lost control of the House of Commons, and finds himself backed into a corner. He continues to insist that he will not ask for such an extension in any circumstances - and that's why the topic of impeachment has come up.

    How Could It Be Done?

    The very idea of impeaching a British Prime Minister is almost unheard of. The usual way of disposing of a Prime Minister who's no longer seen to be fit for purpose is by defeating them in a vote of no confidence in the House, and then holding a general election. Johnson has even offered this route by calling for an election last week, but the House didn't carry the motion. Their fear is that Johnson will simply use the election to run the clock down, resulting in the UK crashing out of the EU by default at the end of October. The rebels insist they will back an election - but only when an extension to the deadline has been secured.

    With no election forthcoming, if Johnson sits on his hands and refuses to act, Liz Saville Roberts - the leader of Welsh-interest party Plaid Cymru in the House - has said she'll invoke a little known act from the early 19th century to call for his impeachment. Impeachment was made possible in the UK in 1806, when a group of politicians attempted to impeach Prime Minister Viscount Melville for misuse of public money that year. Melville survived the attempt, but the instrument used to make it is still legally valid and can be used when a Prime Minister commits treason or any other crime that the House deems fit to merit such an action. If Johnson doesn't request an extension, he will be in breach of the law, and so a crime will have been committed. There are even some suggestions he could suffer the indignity of arrest and imprisonment.

    Ironically, Johnson once called for the powers to be used against then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the aftermath of the Iraq War. A vote on impeaching a Prime Minister has to be discussed in the House even if only one sitting Member of Parliament calls for it. As Johnson has no majority in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, he could find himself charged, impeached, and found guilty within the matter of three votes.

    Whether the British Parliament - which usually takes a more measured line than we've seen of late - would be open to such a move remains to be seen - but the fact we might be about to see it at all underlines the level of the political crisis currently gripping the country.