On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (a phrase that still sends shivers down my spine) announced that he will suspend Parliament in the coming month and begin a new session in mid-October, less than three weeks before the U.K. is due to bid farewell to the EU, leaving lawmakers even less time to negotiate and take action on Brexit. This blunt and undemocratic move sparked outrage across the U.K., with members of Parliament resigning their posts, numerous high-profile figures threatening to block the move in court, and citizens taking to the streets and flooding social media with the hashtag #StopTheCoup.
But what exactly does BoJo’s move mean? How does it impact negotiations around the looming Brexit deadline, and how likely is it to lead to a no-deal exit from the bloc? While many of the questions are impossible to answer with certainty at this point, sifting through the chaos it’s possible to identify a few key takeaways.
What Johnson did essentially is significantly slash the time members of Parliament have to negotiate (and resist) the Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit. He did so by asking the queen (a mere formality) to lengthen the three-week recess Parliament was already scheduled to take for annual political party conferences and have them return on October 14 instead of the 9, while also formally ending the current parliamentary session (instead of continuing the current one into October). The following day, on October 17, the EU summit takes place—during which the British and European delegations have one last chance to reach an exit deal, which Parliament would then have to approve before the 31st.
Critically, if Parliament fails to promote its own plan for a Brexit path within the eight days between the end of their summer recess and when they break for party conferences, all legislative efforts will be scrapped and lawmakers will be bound to start from scratch in mid-October when the new session begins.
Although in an official letter Johnson portrays the move as a way to reset the legislative agenda and prepare the ground for post-Brexit objectives of the government (fighting street crime and improving the NHS are just some topics that come to mind), the timing of his maneuver and the length of the suspension make his true motives crystal clear: to restrict Parliament and pressure his opponents to either vote for a deal he secures at the EU summit or face a no-deal Brexit (something he personally advocated for on more than one occasion). Johnson’s crippling of the legislative branch in order to secure his wishes has led many citizens and politicians to view his move as alarmingly unconstitutional.
Johnson even elicited visceral objection from within his own Conservative Party. After resigning from the House of Lords, former cabinet member Lord Young of Cookham stated in a letter that the Prime Minister’s manoeuvre “risks undermining the fundamental role of Parliament at a critical time in our history, and reinforces the view that the government may not have the confidence of the House for its Brexit policy.”
Another possible intention of Johnson is to use the move as an impetus to push for an early election, in which he would be positioned as the hero fighting to fulfil the people’s wishes against a Parliament that stalls on Brexit. In doing so, he would utilise this momentum to try and reunite the fragmented Conservative bloc, which threw its support behind various pro-Brexit hard-liners during the Theresa May era. Whether or not Johnson will declare a snap election (something we will discover by the end of next week at the latest), his chances of winning remain unclear, as his recent Parliament stunt yielded a massive pushback.
Reading about Johnson’s move, one might be wondering—what the hell is he thinking? Does he not realise he’s pushing us towards the edge of a cliff? Is he completely out of his wits?
Sadly, BoJo knows exactly what he is doing, and in driving his country towards a possible apocalypse he doesn’t differ from his narcissistic counterparts, such as Trump and Bolsonaro, who knowingly and decisively craft policies that erode their nations’ democratic institutions, destabilise the local and global economies, and threaten the environment.
Such leaders tap right into the frustration of the many who fail to catch up with a rapidly changing landscape of technological and economic developments, and they avail of the unquenchable, blinding greed of both consumers and corporations. They also benefit from the ever-shrinking attention spans of a growing number of people; they prey on our patchy understanding of the socio-political map and world affairs, and our tendency to be carried away by fleeting fads—which ultimately weakens our ability to stick to one issue and fight for it till the end.
All of these combined foster an environment of chaos where narcissistic leaders thrive, and which enables them to mine for what they’re really after: power. To them this is but a major ego trip. But they, at the end of the day, are the products of a society that we all take part in shaping, and so our criticism of them should be accompanied by serious introspection on our part.
The better we understand their pathology, as well as our own, and the more we recognise our role in shaping our reality, the greater our chances become of terminating this cycle of madness and defending our democracies.
Last month, British MPs rejected plans for a 1p per garment fashion tax albeit our climate crisis. At the same time, a Missguided £1 bikini appeared on the market—something that should be beyond concerning for everyone. The U.K. has the highest consumption of fast fashion in the whole of Europe, with over a million tonnes of clothing ending up in landfills each year. So how much power do we as consumers really have when it comes to sustainability and why is this discussion still going on?
The swimsuit sold out promptly, with 1,000 bikinis dropping everyday on the brand’s website, which further raises the question of how it is possible to produce and retail an entire set for just £1, free delivery included. Missguided presented an official statement claiming the production cost was of a higher value to the retail cost, and that the bikini was a “gift” to their customers, in the name of “empowering women to look and feel good without breaking the bank”. Interestingly enough, 78 percent of the brand’s employees are female, yet, they are a 46 percent median wage gap between men and women. The brand ‘excuses’ itself on its website by claiming that this is due to “having more women than men” in lower paid positions, and fewer in higher ones. The lower paid positions include the factory ones, where workers often make as little as £3.50 an hour—contrasting with the U.K.’s minimum wage of £7.83 for over 25s.
Despite being one of the U.K.’s leading retail brands, according to the statistics conducted by the House of Commons, Missguided is also the least environmentally friendly, rejecting the use of recycled or organic materials in their products, clearly avoiding the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) programme as well as the sustainable clothing action plan. The government has the most power when it comes to regulating fast fashion, and yet, British MPs have rejected numerous regulations on the industry.
Many of these dismissals include the 1p per item tax to raise £35 million for clothing collection and sorting, the ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock, and even making a law requiring brands to publically release a modern slavery statement. In addition to this, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has also urged to put lessons on designing, creating and repairing clothing into the school curriculum, as a means to end the era of ‘disposable clothing’ as well as for the MPs to explore a ‘sharing’ economy in which hiring and swapping would replace purchasing. The failure to implement these rules and regulations results in the continuation of unsustainable, disposable mass production, which ultimately affects the environmental crisis even further.
Marketing alone has so much power in influencing what the consumer chooses to buy, and fast fashion brands know this. The infamous swimsuit was advertised by last year’s Love Island contestant Ellie Brown, and being the official fashion sponsor of Love Island 2018, Missguided saw a 40 percent increase in sales. This year, another fast fashion brand, I Saw It First, secured a spot as the show’s official fashion partner, spending around £2 million on the partnership. With over 4.2 million viewers of Love Island’s first episode alone (57 percent appear to be 16-34 years old) the show has the ability to reach a huge number of potential consumers, and yet, it still decides to go for unethical brands.
Similarly, Emily Ratajkowski has recently launched a collection with Boohoo owned Nasty Gal, a brand known to be criticised for their mistreatment of workers while Kylie Jenner advertises for knock-off brand Fashion Nova via her Instagram with over 139.5 million followers. Celebrities and influencers make a conscious choice to promote these brands and in an age where Instagram seems to dictate all new trends, the choices they make allow us to feel a sense of relatability that we, too, can afford to dress like one of the Jenners. Although there is nothing wrong with that idea, influencers should also make a deliberate choice to promote more sustainable alternatives to their followers.
While it is the consumer who creates a demand for fast fashion, it’s unfair to entirely blame the consumer for the harmful environmental impacts or unethical working conditions of the industry. Of course, it’s true that spending £1 on a bikini could seem immensely appealing, but it is important to consider not only the impact this product will have on our planet, but also how the people who made it are affected by such low prices.
Affordable clothing is not only appealing but is essential too, and we consumers can help so much by simply buying less, shopping vintage or seeking other sustainable alternatives. Until the government or the brands alone begin regulating their carbon footprint, perhaps those with a platform should consider twice before encouraging impulse buying. Just putting it out there. In addition, Missguided has now changed the price of the bikini from £1 to £5—a feeble attempt at clearing their conscience or is selling a swimsuit for a literal pound not making enough profit? Either way, nice try.