Johnson Government On Collision Course With EU
With just 92 days remaining until the UK is due to crash out of the EU by the power of statutory provision (the extension to the Article 50 notice period ends by default unless both the EU and UK wish it to be extended), the Johnson government has precious little time to negotiate his “improved” deal.
As we noted yesterday, Johnson has claimed that the chances of the UK leaving the EU without a deal are “a million to one” yet his government is actively engaged in planning for just such an eventuality. What makes the odds very much worse than Mr Johnson would have the electorate believe is that (officially, at any rate) there are no on-going negotiations.
On the one hand, the EU has steadfastly and consistently said that the negotiation process ended in November of 2018 with the Withdrawal Deal that the May government brokered and they will not be re-opened. From the EU’s perspective, the deal is the best possible outcome given the “red lines” imposed by May’s government (largely to pacify the Eurosceptic wing of her party). They have stated that a closer agreement would be possible, of course, but the Johnson government is much more hostile to the EU than the out-going administration was, so this will not happen. The EU has shown great unity of purpose amongst the 27 remaining members and has been adamant that any deal must protect the integrity of the Single Market and the Good Friday (Dublin) Agreement by ensuring that there is no need for a hard border on the island of Ireland. This last requirement was achieved by the Irish backstop which essentially ensures that Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the EU’s single market.
The DUP which affords the UK government its (now very) slim working majority is adamant that the trading rules between Northern Ireland and the UK must not alter. Consequently, the backstop arrangements keep the whole of the UK in the Single Market whilst the transitional period would be in force (and, potentially, in perpetuity). Any other arrangement that maintained the Dublin agreement would force a de facto border down the Irish Sea.
Rather than actively engage with the UK’s EU partners and friends (as Johnson is at pains to call them) to find a solution to the problem, Johnson is refusing to enter into talks unless the Irish backstop is withdrawn (and the negotiations into the withdrawal agreement re-opened, in consequence). The EU simply cannot agree to this.
This brinkmanship is making the exit of the UK from the EU on a “no deal” basis more likely by the day. However, there is clear opposition to this policy from all the UK opposition parties and a growing number of Conservative MPs.
The Commons is on its summer recess, so it is unlikely that any significant changes will emerge until it resumes sitting. Despite Johnson’s words, his policy appears to be squarely aimed at pulling the UK out of the EU without a deal. The value of Sterling is edging lower as Forex analysts factor this in.