As MPs gathered in the Commons for the first time after the general election, Boris Johnson spelt out his top priority in Groundhog Day-style – to “get Brexit done”.
Anyone who thought the general election had sorted all this out may be horrified to learn that after the UK ‘leaves’ the European Union on 31 January, there will be a transition period until the end of next year and that hugely important negotiations over a trade deal must still be carried out. If one cannot be struck, the UK could still find itself entirely outside the EU and reliant on World Trade Organisation rules – the dreaded ‘no-deal’ scenario.
Johnson is so concerned to avoid the fate of Theresa May, who was forced to repeatedly ask the EU to delay Brexit until her political currency at home ran out, that his Brexit bill is to be changed to rule out any extension to that transition.
The news saw the value of the pound slump on the money markets with traders fearing the short timescale to conclude a complex trade deal – normally these things take several years – had increased the chance of a no-deal Brexit considerably. And a Downing Street spokesperson warned that British businesses would “need to prepare for life outside the EU’s customs regime in all circumstances” – ie no-deal is on the table.
Lasting impact on UK
The UK Government’s strategy is likely to be an attempt to get the EU to move quickly – the bloc has a reputation for last-minute agreements at late-night talks – using their fear of the economic damage that would be caused by no-deal. It’s the same strategy that helped Johnson secure a Withdrawal Agreement more to his liking that Theresa May’s. Whether the EU will fall for the same ‘trick’ twice is open to question.
The early reaction from the EU27 was that seeking a quick deal would limit the scope of what could be achieved. Given Brexit will have a lasting impact on the UK, the rush seems more about Johnson’s political fate, than the good of the country. Depending how the talks go, the UK should be prepared to delay to get the best possible deal, one that minimises the economic damage. So ‘we the people’ should perhaps cut Johnson some slack on this particular issue, avoid putting too much political pressure on him, so that he can change the law to allow an extension if necessary.
There is now no stopping a Johnson-style Brexit. For all our sakes, let’s help him make the right decisions.