Column: The Brexit Challenge

By Ashutosh Mishra

London: Brexit has Britain on the edge. Public opinion over the issue is sharply divided and the stand-off between the ruling Conservatives and the Labour party seems set to worsen as the October 31 deadline for Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to make good his promise of leading Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal draws closer.

For Johnson, a former journalist and an ardent Brexiteer, leading Britain out of the EU remains top priority as this will help him focus on major issues that have remained on the back-burner for the past few years.

“Enough is enough. The country wants this done and they want the referendum respected. We are negotiating a deal and though I am confident of getting a deal, we will leave by October 31 in all circumstances,” is how Johnson put it recently making his determination to quit EU amply clear.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister finds himself in the midst of a controversy over his ‘close friendship’ with a pole-dancing American businesswoman even as the Brexit debate rages in the country. According to reports in a section of the British media 34-year-old technology entrepreneur, Jennifer Arcuri was given thousands of pounds in public money and privileged access to three overseas trade missions when Johnson was the mayor of London.

The story appears to be acquiring scandalous proportions but the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the nature of his relationship with the model-turned-tech entrepreneur. Most recently he declined to comment on the allegations of his association with Arcuri on his flight to New York to attend the UN General Assembly. “ I’m here to talk about what we are doing in the UN,” he retorted when asked about the allegations linking him with the model-turned-entrepreneur.

Coming back to Brexit it has triggered serious differences within both Labour and the Conservative parties. The rift within Labour has brought its leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his deputy Tom Watson face to face. Openly challenging Corbyn’s official position of staying neutral Watson has demanded that the party backed Remain that is Britain staying in the European Union. “ We are a Remain party. We are a European party. We are an internationalist party. That is who we are. Not perfect, not pure. But overwhelmingly committed to Britain remaining in Europe,” Watson told a fringe event at the party conference in Brighton recently. His views have been echoed by shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry and London mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Khan is convinced that Labour is a Remain party and it should, as a matter of policy, campaign to stay in the European Union under all circumstances. “ Staying neutral in the face of the biggest economic and social threat to our country for decades is simply not an option,” he was quoted as saying by one newspaper.

Within the Conservative party Brexit has caused a lot of bad blood with differences over strategy. The parting shot of Boris’s predecessor, Theresa May as she demitted office was that she hoped for a Brexit “ that works for the whole United Kingdom.” Given the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty achieving that will be a tough challenge for any leader.

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