Boris Johnson: confrontations instead of negotiations with the European Union

By Doris Hategan9.03.2020Culture and Society, Economics, Media, Science

Great Britain has left the European Union on 31 January 2020 but the majority of voters wants to remain in the European Union, proportional votes confirm. The simple majority vote and the Labour party abandoning “Remainers” explain the Conservative party’s success: 44 % of the votes and 365 seats in the House of Commons, 40 seats more than the majority respective 80 seats more than the opposition parties. Prime minister Boris Johnson’s election campaign already pointed towards difficult negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the European Union. His authoritarian leadership style precludes compromises necessary for a deal after Brexit. Confrontations instead of negotiations mark his guidelines put on the Internet on 27 February 2020 commanding the European Union to have a free-trade agreement ready and ratified by December 2020. The threat to crash out without a deal may worry members of the House of Commons excluded from European affairs.  By contrast, the European Union was committed to its co-operative leadership style when negotiations began on the 2nd of March 2020. Twenty-seven countries have unanimously agreed on negotiation mandates put on the Internet on 3 February and 25 February 2020 for all to see their competence and good faith.

1.) Marking the minds about Brexit: the Queen’s Speech. Seven days after the general election on 12 December 2019, the state opening of parliament confirmed the power of television to mark the minds of viewers, when Queen Elizabeth II. arrived in a car at the Palace of Westminster, wearing a day dress and a pale green coat and a matching hat. She was accompanied by the Prince of Wales in a black cut-away. There was only one lady in waiting, also dressed in black with a matching hat. The contrast could not be greater to participants following centuries of tradition in historical costumes, beginning with the procession through the Royal Gallery to the House of Lords where the Queen commands the presence of the House of Commons and reads the government’s proposed legislation for the next five years.

The way Queen Elizabeth II. scaled down her 14th opening of parliament has created instantly and worldwide visual memories, reinforced by repetition on television, the Internet and social Media.

The visual power of television to mark the minds has a drawback: Words are instantly forgotten. The government’s first three sentences were instantly forgotten – though they will change the lives of the people in the United Kingdom and in 27 European countries – when the Queen began reading: “My Lords and Members of the House of Commons. My government’s priority is to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on the 31st of January. My ministers will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit on that date and to make the most of the opportunities this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom. Thereafter, my ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free-trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom.” The government’s agenda turned to other matters. The entire text took ten minutes’ reading. Later in the day, the House of Commons debated on the text and voted on the Queen’s Speech.

There seems to be little interest in informing the public. Looking at the first three sentences, there is no genuine news which could mark the minds in a positive or negative manner. The departure “on the 31st of January” has been known since the general election and there is no information content in unknown “opportunities” and in unspecified benefits of a “free-trade agreement”. The government seems to have no agenda for arriving at agreements with 27 European countries regarding regulatory standards, services, security, defence, fisheries, agriculture, research and so on, to be part of future negotiations as agreed on in the Political Protocol which accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexit.

Three sentences without information content in a five year government programme denote little interest in the European Union. They also denote little interest in the majority of voters who want to remain in the European Union.

2.) The majority of British voters wants to remain in the European Union. In spite of two withdrawal treaties with the European Council and two prime ministers, Theresa May and her successor Boris Johnson, trying to obtain parliamentary approval throughout the year, there is still a majority for remaining in the European Union. There are two indicators: the general election on 12 December 2019 and the European election on 26 May 2019.

In May 2019, the proportional voting system indicated the national will of British voters. Parties campaigning for remaining in the European Union obtained 60,5 % of the votes, since the Brexit Party had 31,7 % of the votes and the Conservative party 8,7 %, though not every conservative voter may have been a “Leaver”. Besides, the two parties belong to different parliamentary groups. The Brexit Party had 29 seats in the EFDD; the Conservative party had four seats in the ECR. Turnout was a remarkable 36,9 % of the electorate, considering that prime minister Theresa May was on extension time for leaving.

In December 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson was on extension time for leaving, too, when 53 % of the votes went to parties campaigning for remaining in the European Union: the Conservative party had 44,0 % of the votes and the Brexit Party almost 3,0 %. The majority of “Remainers” was confirmed. Turnout was 67,3 % of the electorate of 46 million voters and in keeping with general elections in 2015 and 2017 (bbc.com/news/election-2019-50774061). There seems to be a consistent third of the electorate which is not interested in politics, does not know there is an election coming up and does not notice election campaigns.

But the majority of “Remainers” indicates political interest and a considerable change of minds since the referendum in June 2016 which resulted in 48 % for remaining and 52 % for leaving. It is normal for politically interested people to change their minds in the course of three years, not least because of the Brexit process. A simple opinion poll would have been helpful.

Again, it may be part of Britain’s political culture that “Remainers” accept being politically ignored, in spite of their majority. There are only “opposition peers” in the House of Lords willing to take note of them, Michael White writes in The New European on 16 January 2020. “But unelected lords always know they must respect election results and will move very warily, aware that Team Boris has threatened their very existence.” There is talk about abolishing the House of Lords, the second chamber of Parliament.

It is certainly part of the political culture that the traditional authoritarian leadership style is generally practiced by politicians and accepted by those inferior in rank. Selecting the Brexit process, I have suggested new insights from management science and introduced a typology of leadership styles – Boris Johnson’s authoritarian leadership style and, by contrast, the modern co-operative leadership style of some members in the House of Commons and of the European Council (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan-boris-johnson-political-leadership-style).

The following insights concern Boris Johnson’s authoritarian election campaign already pointing towards difficult negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the European Union, if not towards crashing out without a deal by December 2020.

3.) Authoritarian leadership style: General election on 12 December 2019. Two basic characteristics define the leadership style. The first one is the “institutional authority” independent of the officeholder and independent of his performance. This implies the second one, “assumptions about subordinates”, who are morally obliged to serve the institutional authority with consent and obedience. They are supposed to lack intelligence and knowledge and need detailed instructions and constant controls. All other authoritarian characteristics are derived from these basic definitions.

Transferred to the general election on 12 December 2019, party leaders practice an authoritarian leadership style and expect candidates and members to serve them with consent and obedience during the campaign, just as they expect voters to lack intelligence and knowledge for making up their own minds. I suggest that these simplifications be examined within the framework of a management cycle with its phases of planning, implementation, controlling and revised planning for a new cycle.

3.1) Preparation of authoritarian decisions. The party leader prepares his decisions without advice or discussion because he knows best, easily demonstrated by ignoring new insights and refusing to correct mistakes. He often blocks reforms and progress.

Transferred to the general election, prime minister Boris Johnson, in office since July 2019, allowed five weeks for campaigning when he set the date for 12 December 2019. He may have wanted to give his Conservative party some advantages over the Labour party which had no time for preparing a successful election campaign which might have resulted in taking over the government with its waiting shadow cabinet.

In terms of campaign management, there is no time for planning and consequently no follow-up on its implementation, on control of implementation and on revised planning for a new and improved management cycle. A five week election campaign, more or less improvised, cannot change voters’ minds (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan-boris-johnson-political-leadership-style).

It takes at least a full-scale election campaign. This means at least planning for more than a year, implementation for several months, constant controls of implementation and improvements, intensified during the last four weeks, the so-called “hot phase”, before election day – in short: following a management cycle.

For instance, summarizing decades of research, Steven E. Finkel considers the time before an American presidential election campaign just as important for individual voting behaviour as the campaign itself, which begins sometime in August, when presidential candidates are nominated, and ends on the first Tuesday in November. Finkel’s ”minimal-effects-model” explained in 1993, within limits of regression analysis, that an election campaign will confirm rather than change voters’ decisions.

   3.2) Implementation of authoritarian decisions. The political leader implements his decisions by way of command and obedience, even if obedience is to be forced with fake news, withholding information, lies and threats. Implied is the order for those of inferior not to criticize the political leader and his performance.

   Transferred to the election campaign, parties leaders implement campaign measures by way of command and expect obedience. Besides, quite often they are incapable of noticing realities outside their own person, whereas a framework of external conditions influences the party’s implementation. I have selected four regarding the Conservative party’s success: the voting system, crumbling voting blocs, the Labour party’s failures and, last not least, voters making up their own minds.

The voting system does not represent the voters’ will but the the will of 650 constituencies. A simple majority vote brings the local candidate into the House of Commons; coming a good second does not help a party to win any more seats. The candidate may represent a party or may stand as Independent. The party with the most winning candidates forms the government and nominates the prime minister.

On election day, the Conservative party had 365 candidates with the most votes. The party had 44 % of the votes but there is no correlation between less than half the votes and having 40 seats more than the majority respectively 80 seats more than the opposition parties.

However, the most important contribution to the Conservative party’s success may have been the Brexit Party’s decision not to contest the 318 seats (42,5 % of the votes) the Conservatives had since 2017. On election day, the Brexit party obtained no seat in the House of Commons.

Crumbling voting blocs confirm that there is no longer a “uniform national swing”, Anthony King wrote in The Daily Telegraph of 21 April 1997. “Individual constituencies – and types of constituencies – are increasingly going their own way.” This development was supposed to explain why the Conservative party was about to lose its parliamentary majority to the Labour party lead by Tony Blair. The election on the 1st of May 1997 marked the begin of his 13 years as prime minister. Since then, party blocs crumble.

A positive innovation has marked the general election in 2019, when candidates of the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru stood down for each other in 60 seats under the banner ”Unite to Remain”. Candidates of the Labour party did not participate.

The Labour party’s failures include the refusal of a coalition government. Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn abandoned “Remainers” and invented a third withdrawal treaty with the European Council, when asked about leaving or remaining on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’re going to put that choice to the British people and they will make that decision. We will negotiate within three months a credible, sensible option of leave and put that alongside remain in a referendum.” Jeremy Corbyn repeated several versions of the same answer which the Daily Mail printed on 18 November 2019 with the comment: “Why Labour voters are backing Boris.”

There may be a number of different reasons why Labour voters changed their minds. But before the election campaign the opposition parties, including the Scottish National Party, had the majority in the House of Commons and supported “Remainers”. There was a moment of co-operation for a second referendum. Giving up on co-operation and on “Remainers” must have been particularly disappointing for the remarkable number of young people who voted Labour, probably believing they would remain in the European Union and some may have wanted to make up for not voting in the 2016 referendum (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan-boris-johnson-political-leadership-style).

On election day, the Labour party had 203 seats, 59 seats less than in 2017, and is still the largest of the opposition parties. The second largest is the Scottish National Party with 48 seats while the “Unite to Remain” parties have 16 seats – the Liberal Democrats 11, the Plaid Cymru 4 and the Green Party one seat. There are 18 seats for “Others”, including those of Northern Ireland.

Voters make up their own minds since the American presidential election of 1940, at least, when Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Bernard R. Berelson and Hazel Gaudet asked how they had arrived at their voting decision and how they had used the media – at that time newspapers and radio. Simplifying subsequent research, readers and listeners preferably notice information which agrees with their opinions and beliefs and skip items which contradict them. At present, selective perception characterizes viewers of television and users of the Internet and social Media, too.

Again, simplifying subsequent research, there is an understanding of voting as a group experience and an understanding of voting as individual behaviour, each category requiring different interactions and communication processes.

The group experience means essentially the voter’s social environment. Talking about the up-coming election with family and friends, with neighbours or colleagues at the workplace is necessary for making up one’s mind as well as for changing it. Discussions with family and friends are particularly important for undecided voters to come to a decision. Quite often, first voters will vote with their parents and like-minded friends. A modern equivalent is found on facebook where family and friends are mainly interested in their own affairs. There may also be neighbours or colleagues at the workplace who share personal concerns, individual expectations and demands on society’s developments – three important factors for voting decisions.

It would seem that dedicated candidates, party members and helpers are best qualified to establish personal relationships with voters and have informal discussions – the most effective way of contributing to the party’s success, Scott D. McClurg found out in 2004. He followed up a snow-ball system of social party contacts and quantified its influence on election results, but personnel and costs were a problem. This was also true for the British election campaign, Liz MacInnes, former Labour MP, confirmed: “Most mornings I would have a team of half a dozen fantastic local activists. In the afternoon, I’d get two or three people and then a few more in the evening … I was eventually sent an organiser for the last few days but it was too late” (the guardian.com/politics/2019/dec/17/corbyn-antisemitism-and-brexit-labour-mps).

   3.3) Control of authoritarian implementation. The political leader is exempt from all forms of control regarding his person and his performance. But he will use all forms of control for subordinates who are supposed to lack intelligence and knowledge and require constant checks on their carrying out orders.

Transferred to the election campaign, a traditional form of controlling authoritarian implementation is the election result. Party leaders will take credit for a successful outcome but will hardly ever accept responsibility for wrong decisions and for failure to win. Scientific research provides objective controls but they may be an exception rather than a rule.

Evaluating prime minister Boris Johnson’s election campaign means flattering comments from the Media: “Boris Johnson … won a whopping 80-seat majority” (economist.com/UK-elections/2019/general-election-results). On election night, the prime minister agreed and thanked those who had voted for him, especially former Labour voters: “I am humbled that you put your trust in me and I will never take your support for granted.”

Later on, BBC presenter Huw Edwards commented on it during the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019: “Boris Johnson’s strategy paid off because he has a majority of 80 and can do what he likes, really.” There are legitimate commercial interests, too, for maintaining that the prime minister turned a parliamentary minority into a parliamentary majority.

But the diversity of campaign measures and their effects cannot be traced to an election result. For instance, the impact of television, mentioned for the Queen’s Speech, is reinforced when combined with print and electronic media and multiplied by the Internet and social Media but limited to those who have a personal or professional interest in the election campaign.

For instance, on election night, Ros Atkins of BBC World Outside Source marked the minds of interested viewers when he compared prime minister Boris Johnson with the American president Donald Trump, not only regarding his election campaign in 2016: “What we have seen with Donald Trump is that he repeatedly said things which we know aren’t true, which have been proven to be not true, and he keeps saying them.” This also refers to the example Chris Morris, BBC’s reality checker, mentioned on election night: Prime minister Boris Johnson had told voters there will be no checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland after Brexit “even though that is precisely what internal government documents and his own Brexit Withdrawal Agreement say there will be”. Political journalists believe that British democracy will be endangered if politicians no longer care whether their statements are true or not.

But then, prime minister Boris Johnson modified the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and its attached Protocol on Ireland /North Ireland may not be implemented for a number of reasons – no plan for procedures or no plans for building infrastructure in ports in Northern Ireland or crashing out without a deal, when rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) apply and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will need infrastructure to be built.

But then, it is part of the collective memory that Boris Johnson used a false weekly payment of £350 million to the European Union for his leave campaign in 2016 (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan-boris-johnson-political-leadership-style). Looking at contributions, there is indeed no such payment. Contributions vary slightly each year because of volatile exchange rates etc., but the average in 2015 and in 2016 was £152 million a week (parliament.uk/commons-library). In any case, Boris Johnson seems to have forgotten the rebate prime minister Margaret Thatcher negotiated in Brussels, supposedly having said: “I want my money back.” There are also Public Sector Receipts to consider.

   4.) Authoritarian leadership style: Commanding a free-trade agreement with the European Union. Since taking office in July 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson’s priority has been to leave the European Union as quickly as possible without a deal for a fast-track free-trade agreement with president Donald Trump. There have already been secret negotiations with American counterparts, a whistle-blower informed the public during the election campaign, when Britain was still a member of the European Union and prohibited from doing so.

After the election, prime minister Boris Johnson used his parliamentary majority to pass a modified Withdrawal Agreement Bill and its accompanying Political Protocol with many clauses deleted from negotiations for a free-trade agreement such as workers’ rights protection, state aid, subsidies for business, climate change, the European Court of Justice policing any free-trade agreement, and so on. “There is no need for a free-trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment or anything similar”, Boris Johnson decided. In any case, it is remarkable that the prime minister’s signature on the Political Protocol was valid for a little less than three months.

Boris Johnson saw no need for an extension of the transition period beyond 31 December 2020 either, commanding the European Union to provide a free-trade agreement signed and ratified by the end of the year. The threat of leaving without a deal seems like a simple-minded repetition of last October’s threat with the difference that the checks and balances members of the House of Commons were offered as an inducement to pass the old bill in October were also deleted. “For example, the requirement for the government’s negotiating position on the future relationship with the EU to be approved by Parliament has gone”, Chris Morris wrote on 23 January 2020 (bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50125338).

This is all the more worrying since the prime minister has never before negotiated a free-trade agreement. In his report to Parliament “The Future Relationship with the EU. The UK’s Approach to Negotiations”, put on the Internet on 27 February for negotiations to begin on 2 March 2020, he wants a Canada-style agreement which took seven years of negotiations, or failing that, an Autralian-style agreement which does not exist, and selects items from the European Union’s treaties with, in alphabetical order, Chile, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States.

Chief negotiator is not senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove but the European Advisor David Frost believing that “the freedom to diverge from EU rules is the whole point of Brexit”.

   5.) Co-operative leadership style: The European Union’s competence and good faith. The institutions of the European Union are required to practice a modern co-operative leadership style in order to function. This is obvious when they must arrive at unanimous decisions. The Brexit process was an impressive example (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan-boris-johnson-political-leadership-style).

Preparing co-operative decisions for negotiating a free-trade agreement, the twenty-seven countries agreed unanimously on negotiation mandates which were put on the Internet on 3 February and on 25 February 2020. Competence and good faith are there for all to see.

Chief negotiator is again Michel Barnier who summed up the most important problem: “A short time, as chosen by the British government, not by us. In a very brief period, you can’t do everything. We will do as much as we can under pressure of time.” Last time, in October 2019, the European negotiators helped to prevent Britain from crashing out without a deal. This time it seems more difficult than ever.

 

 

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