In Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the anarchic anti-hero Captain John Yossarian marvels at the beauty of the trap he finds himself in. To escape the war he is being forced to fight, he must prove he is crazy. But asking not to fight proves he is not crazy. Therefore he has to fight.
The trap is inescapable. “Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle,” Heller wrote. “‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed.”
The two remaining contenders to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and, by extension, British prime minister—Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt—now find themselves in a trap of almost equally simplistic beauty. To win the Conservative-leadership race, they must promise to succeed where May failed and take Britain out of the European Union, ideally by October 31, the new, twice-delayed deadline. But how?
The trap is this: There is no majority in Parliament to agree on May’s negotiated deal enabling the United Kingdom to leave the EU in an orderly manner, with opposition centering on a £39 billion ($49 billion) divorce settlement and the Irish backstop, which ties Britain into the EU’s customs union after Brexit. And yet, there is also no majority in the House of Commons to leave without a deal, because of fears over damage to the country’s economy and standing in the world. (Though Britain leaves the EU by default on October 31, with or without Parliament’s consent, members of Parliament have shown they are willing to enact legislative barriers to stop this from happening.)