1.) Authoritarian leadership style: Commanding the European Union to ratify a
free-trade agreement. It is part of Britain’s political culture that the traditional authoritarian leadership style is practiced and accepted. Giving orders and obeying orders simplifies political reality quite considerably. Commanding the European Union to accept a no-deal mandate as negotiation basis for a free-trade agreement seems just as simple.
But negotiating in times of the coronavirus pandemic means that prime minister Boris Johnson’s authoritarian leadership style is being rejected and his government and the Conservative party have lost support. There are changes towards a modern co-operative leadership style where people have to work together in order to cope with the health crises.
I suggest new insights from management science and from the Typology of leadership styles I introduced for analysing the withdrawal agreements 2019 (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan/boris-johnson-political-leadership-style). The first basic authoritarian characteristic 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 control.
Reducing complex political interactions to a simple relationship of either giving orders or of obeying orders is as much a matter of personal confrontations as of institutional hierarchy. For instance, prime minister Boris Johnson may consider president Donald Trump superior in rank and submit readily to American demands, and he may obey orders from a personal adviser, an employee of government and inferior in hierarchical rank. The law of the strongest prevails, anyway.
1.1) 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”, the definition explains.
A simple instance of prime minister Boris Johnson knowing best is his denial of decades of scientific management. The first step would be planning for preparations – defining objectives, selecting means, setting timetables, projecting results, developing evaluations for each issue of agreement, for each issue of disagreement, for each negotiation round, and so on. But commanding the European Commission to have a free-trade agreement ratified by the end of the year leaves no time for planning, implementation, control of implementation and revised planning.
Backtracking from 31 December 2020, parliaments of the 27 Member States need time for scrutiny and debate before they ratify the free-trade agreement – or not. That goes for the European Parliament, too. The Chair of its UK Coordination Group, David McAllister, commented on it on 7 June 2020, after the fourth negotiation round had ended without significant progress: “We must focus even more on the final legal text which will have to be in hand on 31 October 2020, at the latest, if ever Britain were to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union on the 1st of January 2021” (ARD Europamagazin). Therefore, negotiations with the European Commission will have to be completed by mid-October 2020, at the latest.
This must be all the more worrying for the British people because prime minister Boris Johnson has been in office only since July 2019, a little over six months, and has no experience with negotiating an international free-trade agreement. When he was Mayor of London (2008 to 2016) and Foreign Secretary (2016 to 2018), Britain profited from the 650 treaties, including 40 free-trade agreements, the European Commission had negotiated with countries around the world, Wladimir Garcin-Berson noted on 3 February 2020 (lefigaro.fr/conjoncture/brexit-le-ton-monte-entre-londres-et-bruxelles). Leaving the European Union means leaving the treaties.
1.2) 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”, the definition explains.
A simple case of command and obedience is obvious when prime minister Boris Johnson orders confrontations instead of negotiations with the European Commission. Confrontations are intended in the 30-page negotiation mandate called “The Future Relationship with the EU. The UK’s Approach to Negotiations”. It is not a legal text but a report to Parliament put on the Internet on 27 February 2020, four days before negotiations began in Brussels. “The document ‘prepares the ground for a no-deal, at least rhetorically’”, the Financial Times quoted a diplomat. Meanwhile, the rhetorical no-deal is on its way to reality.
First: The European Union’s treaties are used to turn the rhetorical no-deal into reality. Prime minister Boris Johnson wants a future relationship in form of a Canada-style agreement which took seven years of negotiations, or failing that, an Australian-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.
Reality is different. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are no members of the European Union but belong to the Schengen space without border control, whereas Britain was a member of the European Union but did not join the Schengen treaty with its free exchanges. In this context, the Brexit slogan of “taking back control over our borders” was probably an euphemism for exercising power over the European Union.
There is certainly confidence in winning confrontations. Selecting random items from treaties stands for what journalists call “cherry-picking” of advantages. For instance, BBC’s political correspondent Rob Watson is convinced that “Britain will get all the advantages it wants”. Six years before, prime minister David Cameron made the same mistake when he started the Brexit process and assured his Conservative party: “Britain will get what it wants” (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan/boris-johnson-political-leadership-style). In fact, Britain will get all the disadvantages beginning with a shrinking economy. The government’s modelling in 2018 amounted to an average of -7,7% of GDP over five to fifteen years.
Secondly: The European Union’s Withdrawal Agreement is used to turn the rhetorical no-deal into reality. Prime minister Boris Johnson used the 80-seat majority of the Conservative party to have modifications passed, even though the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, its attached Protocol on Northern Ireland and its accompanying Political Declaration had been voted on in the House of Commons, in the House of Lords and in the European Parliament last October. I have selected simple instances of unilateral changes.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill makes it unlawful to extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020. The prime minister refuses an extension which can be up to two years, provided a request has been submitted by the end of June 2020. “Boris Johnson’s government has not only repeatedly said it will not request an extension but deliberately blocked a bolt-hole for itself from that position, stating it would not agree even if the EU asked”, Alan Beattie summarized the refusal in the Financial Times of 5 Mai 2020.
The refusal divides the four nations of the United Kingdom as much as the accomplished Brexit. The Welsh government and the Scottish government are in favour of an extension. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, Europe and External Affaires, Mike Russel, emphasized that not seeking an extension would be an “act of extraordinary recklessness”. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of extending the transition period. The vote is not binding but it marks the minds of politically interested people. The United Kingdom is no longer united.
The Protocol on Northern Ireland has regulatory objectives that are incompatible with legal commitments and there are no plans for implementing infrastructure in Northern Ireland’s ports, necessary for the customs border set in the Irish Sea. Apparently, Boris Johnson’s electoral promise that there will be “no checks on trade” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain after Brexit indicated future intentions as well as contradictions BBC’s reality checker Chris Morris wondered about on election night saying that checks on trade “is precisely what internal government documents and his own Brexit Withdrawal Agreement say there will be” (theeuropean.de/en/doris-hategan/boris-johnson-accomplished-brexit-and-failed-trust).
If ever Britain were to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union on 31 December 2020, rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) would apply with tariffs, regulatory barriers and quotas and infrastructure would be required for a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, despite the Good Friday agreement of 1998 to keep an open border.
The Political Declaration had clauses deleted such as protection of workers’ rights and of consumer and environmental standards, subsidies for state owned companies, state-aid 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 after a courtesy visit of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on 8 February 2020. Later on, Chief negotiator David Frost emphasized that “the freedom to diverge from EU rules is the whole point of Brexit”.
It is also the whole point of losing access to the Single Market. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and other business organisations argued in vain that companies prefer unchanged rules and unchanged access. “And size matters: the EU accounts for almost half of Britain’s exports, while Britain takes barely a tenth of the EU’s”, The Economist wrote on 11 January 2020 and explained the prime minister’s weak position in the upcoming negotiations.
1.3) Control of authoritarian implementation. “The political leader is exempt from all forms of control. But he will apply all forms of control to subordinates. They are supposed to need detailed checks on their carrying out orders with consent an obedience”, the definition explains.
Exercising control is a form of exercising power. Prime minister Boris Johnson is exempt from controls of implementation. There is no parliamentary control, either. The modified Withdrawal Agreement Bill had no longer those checks and balances members of the House of Commons were offered as an inducement to pass the old bill last October. “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. Parliament’s ratification was valid for a little less than three months.
1.4) Revised preparation of authoritarian decisions. If there had been a parliamentary control of the prime minister’s implementations, there might have been revised preparations for a new management cycle beginning with an extended transition period requested by the end of June 2020. Instead, a rhetorical no-deal has become a real no-deal.
There is no across parties co-operation which prevented Britain from crashing out without a deal last October. There is no political debate about the national interest in leaving without a deal this time. There is no mention of the majority of voters who wanted to remain in the European Union at last December’s general election (theeuropean.de/en/doris-hategan/boris-johnson-accomplished-brexit-and-failed-trust). There is no public discussion about the coronavirus pandemic changing negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the European Commission.
2.) Co-operative leadership style: changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first characteristic of the co-operative leadership style is still the “institutional authority” but the officeholder has to justify it with his qualifications, his professional expertise, his professional experience and so on. His personal authority has to replace institutional authority. This implies the second characteristic, “assumptions about subordinates”. They are supposed to be intelligent and knowledgeable enough to take on responsibilities. Also, those inferior in rank will accept merited authority with consent and commitment.
The political leader believes in working relationships on equal terms. He will co-operate with those of inferior rank, knowing that trust and unity of purpose are essential for sustainable team work (theeuropean.de/christa-hategan/boris-johnson-political-leadership-style).
The role model are teams of doctors, nurses and health care staff working together with trust and unity of purpose when treating patients infected with the coronavirus, called COVID-19. They stand for all those formal and informal groups and institutions having to cope with the health crises. They practice a modern co-operative leadership style, though they may not use the term. It would be lacking respect for sufferings and loss of lives, if changes towards co-operative managements were not compared to the prime minister’s authoritarian handling of the pandemic.
2.1) Preparation of co-operative decisions. “The political leader prepares decisions with advice from his staff and discussion with those concerned. He will reconcile conflicting interests and work out sustainable compromises in order to achieve consent and commitment for his projects. This may take considerable time, effort and cost, but those who have been part of preparations will be more committed to ensure a successful implementation than those who have not been consulted”, the definition explains.
Again, a role model are teams of doctors, nurses and hospital staff learning from each other ways of treating patients with this new and highly infectious virus while preparations were required on a national scale for testing people with symptoms, tracing contacts of infected people and isolating those concerned for two weeks. Interrupting chains of infection is necessary to slow down the first exponential spread of the virus and eventually arrive at its containment. It means a lockdown and closed borders.
A simple instance of prime minister Boris Johnson knowing best is his denial of medical advice. He decided to diverge from World Health Organization (WHO) advice and from European countries successfully coping with the pandemic. He allowed the British people to get infected in order to build “herd immunity”. This concept was shared with president Donald Trump who, at the beginning, considered the coronavirus pandemic as another sort of winter flu’.
2.2) Implementation of co-operative decisions. “The political leader will implement decisions in accordance with preparations and team work. The free exchange of information and ideas will encourage innovation and progress” the definition explains.
Implementation is just as good or just as bad as preparations have been. Seeing the lack of preparations and the special British way of aiming at “herd immunity, I have selected six chronological dates marking failed implementations.
End of January 2020: confirming first cases of coronavirus in Britain. The pandemic started in the Chinese province of Wuhan in December 2019 and reached countries in the European Union by the end of January. Italy was the epicentre closely followed by France and Spain. Other European countries managed to contain the virus because people followed instructions to protect themselves and others, including keeping a distance of 1,5 m to another person and wearing masks in public. By contrast, prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged personal contacts and the spread of infections in view of achieving “herd immunity”.
3rd of March 2020: spreading the coronavirus among the British people. In his daily press briefing, prime minister Boris Johnson informed the public that he had been shaking hands and would continue to do so. He also mentioned a recent visit to a hospital where infected patients were being treated: “You will be pleased to hear that I shook hands with everyone.” He would also attend large mass gatherings. Accordingly, on 11 March 2020, the Daily Mail showed over two of its 88 pages the grandstand at Cheltenham, closely packed with more than 60 000 racegoers “utterly unfazed by the coronavirus peril as they enjoyed the festival’s first day”. There were three days of horse racing and about 250 000 visitors.
The Daily Mail mentioned in the same issue of 11 March 2020 that the National Health Service (NHS) was testing 1 500 people per day for infection, using one of twelve laboratories available, and had 4 050 intensive care beds ready for very ill patients.
12 March 2020: stopping tests in communities. There were no longer capacities for testing people with symptoms and in self-isolation in communities. Tests were reserved for very ill patients in hospitals. Doctors, nurses and health workers with symptoms or in self-isolation at home could not get a test. Those in hospital worried about being infected and infect their families, in turn, because there was insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), especially gowns were lacking.
Besides, until 12 March 2020, the government’s advice ignored care homes: “It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected.” When Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer quoted the advice at The Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQ) later on, the prime minister denied reality: “It was not true that the government’s advice said that.” PMQ was once the heart of parliamentary debate.
23 March 2020: ordering a national lockdown. The day before, at his press briefing, prime minister Boris Johnson had ordered people to keep a distance of 2,0 m to protect themselves and others from infection. Until then, social distancing was recommended but now it was an order, controlled by the police and sanctioned with fines. The change of policy was far from clear when the prime minister explained it: “Always remember, in following this advice, and I know how difficult it is, but always remember that like each and everyone of us, you are doing your bit in following this advice.”
The next day, Boris Johnson ordered pubs, bars, restaurants and gyms to close immediately. He ordered a national lockdown. But he kept border open. Only on 9 May 2020, borders were closed and passengers arriving at Heathrow airport had to go into quarantine for two weeks – too late for containment of the coronavirus.
27 March 2020: the prime minister tested positive. The night before, Boris Johnson received positive test results and stood in front of 10 Downing Street with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to join in the national applause for the National Health System (NHS). His infection may have occurred about 12 days ago and symptoms may have been felt about five or six days later – time to infect unknowingly all those who had contact with him, including several Cabinet Ministers, among them Health Secretary Matt Hancock, his personal adviser and staff. On 5 April 2020, Boris Johnson was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital and spent three days in intensive care. He recovered and left hospital on 12 April 2020, Easter Sunday, to recuperate at Checkers. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was acting on his behalf on certain occasions. A British prime minister has no deputy.
27 April 2020: the prime minister returns to office. Great Britain had about four weeks of slow government. The columnist Jenny Russell commented on it in The New York Times of 5 Mai 2020: “Mr. Johnson’s cabinet is so markedly weak, with so few politicians of intellect and experience, that the prime minister’s absence for nearly a month left an alarming void.” In terms of an authoritarian leadership style, a prime minister would want to remove those who would not let him win confrontations and could become a successor.
2.3) Control of co-operative implementation. “Control is part of the co-operative leadership style and an indispensable, not delegable duty of the political leader. It ensures leadership in delegated areas. Apart from controlling object matters, personal leadership will be controlled, too”, the definition explains.
Objective forms of controlling team work and implementations during the coronavirus pandemic will have to be developed over time, even when containment of the virus has failed. At present, the Johns Hopkins University collects daily informations from countries around the world including new infections, based on tests, and the number of deaths, based on different ways of counting. Britain used to inform about deaths in hospitals, those occurring at home or in care homes were ignored.
For instance, on 13 Mai 2020, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked the prime minister about “10 000 additional and unexplained care home deaths in April” and received no answer. Boris Johnson read from a paper: “We are seeing an appreciable and substantial reduction, not just in the number of outbreaks but also in the number of deaths. Solving the problems in care homes is going to be absolutely critical. We must fix it and we will.”
Fixing future problems of life and death is a choice of words which implies contempt for elderly people and for people of all ages needing treatment in care homes. Two weeks later, by the end of May, Britain had close to 50 000 deaths to mourn, by far the highest in Europe, and increasing daily. Only the United States had more deaths to mourn, about twice as many as the United Kingdom.
2.4) Revision of co-operative preparations. A new and improved management cycle stands for team work to be continued and for contributions to reforms and progress. By contrast, the authoritarian handling of the pandemic will not be revised, despite the British public rejecting the prime minister, his government and the Conservative party.
The monthly Ipsos Mori Political Monitor indicated for June 2020, that about two-thirds of the British public reject government policies: 30% believe that “things in Great Britain are heading in the right direction”.
I prefer information about the complete confidence interval ranging from the lowest probability of 27,3% to the highest probability of 32,7%, the published 30% marking the middle [27,3%…30,0%…32,7%]. The confidence intervals are listed on a table as easy to read as a multiplication table. There is no reason why the government should not take note of the rejection and revise policies accordingly.
The government means prime minister Boris Johnson and he lost approval within the last four weeks in a remarkable way. In May, 51% had a “favourable opinion” of him, the confidence interval ranging from the lowest 48% to the highest 54% with 51% marking the middle [48%…51%…54%]. The fact that Boris Johnson lost approval in reality, proves the confidence interval of June [36%…39%…42%]. There are no shared values with the one in May. Probabilities are easy to read off a listing. Reality is difficult to change.
Similar results characterise the Conservative party with 33% of favourable opinions, in keeping with the government’s 30% approval. It took the Conservative party about six months to come down from an election result of 44% last December to a probability of 33% approval in June 2020.
3.) Mix of political leadership styles. Highly qualified and experienced political leaders practice a mix of authoritarian and co-operative leadership styles according to requirements of the occasion. The European Commission’s occasion is negotiating a free-trade agreement in times of the coronavirus pandemic. The mandate was set out in the Authorization to begin negotiations of 3 February 2020 and in the 46-page Addendum (negotiating directives) of 25 February 2020. Chief negotiator is again Michel Barnier who negotiated the withdrawal agreements for the European Council last October.
On 13 March 2020, before the second round of negotiations, Michel Barnier sent a 441-page draft legal text to the 27 Member States, to the European Parliament and to the British government. The draft leaves room for negotiating a new a partnership while it sets out a framework of issues to be negotiated and defines objectives to be achieved. The Basis remains the Political Declaration. The European Commission negotiates from a position of strength.
The European Commission negotiates from a position of trust, too. Michel Barnier emphasized trust in legal commitments at his press conference on 5 June 2020, when the fourth round of negotiations had ended: “It is my responsibility to speak the truth. And the truth is that there has been no significant progress this week … We cannot and will not accept that backtracking on the Political Declaration and, at the same time, we will request the full respect of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
There is the demand to honour treaties. Pacta sunt servanda. There are also co-operative consultations to reconcile conflicting interests and to arrive at sustainable compromises. On the British side, there is a mandate for a no-deal to be obeyed.