The first time British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confronted the looming October 31st deadline, he found himself facing an incredulous press conference. Johnson, a self-described “Brexit evangelist”, had campaigned heavily on the promise that the UK would leave the European Union by Halloween and that failure to do so would be a sign of national humiliation and personal failure.
But, when it came down to crunch time, it seemed as if even Johnson was unprepared for the looming political crisis. He appeared at a press conference bemused and doubted himself as he said, “We’re still looking for a way to square the circle and make the withdrawal agreement work, and if there is a way to do that without having to take essentially take the UK out with essentially no EU requirements that we have, I’m very happy to do that.”
It was not Johnson’s first test as Prime Minister, but it was his most critical. His predecessor, Theresa May, had attempted and failed to get her Brexit proposal through Parliament several times. Since then, Johnson had received a mandate to “get Brexit done” from the British people, but his route to doing so has been a confusing one. The lack of a clear outcome has left Johnson and the government in a state of limbo, with time rapidly running out.
This difficult task became all the more complicated on the 13th of October when, in Marschall v. Wilhelm, the European Court of Justice declared that the UK could unilaterally withdraw their notice of withdrawal from the European Union without penalty, effectively suspending the UK’s plans to leave.
This moment has been dubbed the “Boris Johnson Judgment”, and it has put the Prime Minister and his government in a difficult position. Johnson had to choose between continuing his efforts to negotiate a mutually beneficial Brexit deal or risk allowing the UK to slip away from the EU without an agreement.
Ultimately, Johnson chose to continue negotiations with European leaders, but it remains unclear what the outcome of these talks may be. If Johnson is unable to secure a mutually beneficial deal with the EU, he could find himself in the awkward position of regretfully breaking his promise to the British people; a promise which he campaigned heavily on. In the end, only time will tell whether Johnson’s incredulous conference will be the start of a successful Brexit or the onset of personal failure.
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