British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in Rotherham, the UK, September 13 2019. Picture: CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/REUTERS
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in Rotherham, the UK, September 13 2019. Picture: CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/REUTERS

Those who see the UK, at least in its postcolonial incarnation, as synonymous with common sense, will have been left shocked by the events of the past few weeks.

Which ones? one might ask. The country has moved so far off the script that it’s been impossible to keep up with the extraordinary events. It seems like a lifetime ago that Boris Johnson rose to the premiership, but it hasn’t been two months.

Since then it has been chaos, so much so that his own brother decided to leave the government, citing an “unresolvable tension” between family loyalty and the national interest.

What prompted Jo Johnson, who had only recently returned to the government after his brother became prime minister, to resign again is unclear, so fast and unpredictable have been developments in Westminster.

Tallying up Johnson’s disasters would take too many words.

The decision of the younger Johnson, a Remainer who worked at the Financial Times before going into politics, was just another  reflection of divisions across the country brought about by the fateful referendum in 2016, which led to the decision to leave the EU, the biggest and richest trading bloc in the world.

Back then, the choice offered by Brexit leaders, such as the older Johnson, was a close relationship with the EU that kept the UK inside the single market and customs union while getting rid of the unwanted elements, such as the free movement of people. Voters, the older Johnson told them, could have their cake and eat it.

Fast forward three years, he is hell-bent on taking the country out of the EU without a deal, irrespective of the consequences. And in doing so, he has shown a willingness to trash democratic and legal conventions, and risk breaking up the UK itself.

Tallying up Johnson’s disasters would take too many words. It’s enough to point out that in addition to being deserted by his brother, he managed to turn a Conservative Party majority of one, including support from the Irish unionists, the DUP, to a deficit of more than 40.

That’s because as he rang up an impressive list of parliamentary losses, he expelled 21 of his own MPs, including the grandson of wartime hero Winston Churchill, for defying the party in one of those votes. The irony was not lost on those who noted that his own rise to power was aided by himself, and other colleagues, doing exactly the same thing: voting against the Brexit exit deal that had been negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May.

At least she can take some comfort in knowing that she’s no longer regarded as the UK’s worst prime minister in living memory, though that accolade should go to her predecessor, David Cameron. He was the one who thought the best way to heal divisions in his own party was to call a popular vote on something as complicated as untangling a major western economy from a trading and political partnership that had lasted more than 40 years.

One of the extraordinary scenes was the suspension of parliament by Johnson, cutting by five weeks the time that elected MPs would have to debate Brexit before the October 31 exit date. MPs carrying signs reading “silenced” and some trying to physically stop House of Commons speaker John Bercow is not what one would associate with the “mother of parliaments”.

But before they left they passed a motion compelling the government to publish its secret documents on the likely consequences of a no-deal Brexit, which Johnson insists the country is prepared for. High on the list was a risk of border delays, which could make medical supplies “particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays”.  Then there’s rising food and fuel prices and public disorder on Britain’s streets.

Not project fear but a government document dated after Johnson became prime minister. 

Not the lesson one would expect to learn from the UK, but this is what happens when dogma trumps common sense.

Those who celebrate the new age of populism as a disruption of ruling elites — though how they square this with a movement led by rich (mostly) men funded by hedge-fund billionaires is unclear —  might still live to regret it.