From “A Million To One” To “Touch and Go”
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said that the UK will leave the EU at the end of October with or without a deal “do or die”, come what may. However, he has also been saying that he wants a deal and that the chances of a “no deal” Brexit are “a million to one”.
Last week, in the run up to the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, Johnson paid visits to both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Macron has continued to say that the EU wants the UK to leave with a deal (if it leaves at all), but that the Irish backstop is non-negotiable and the withdrawal agreement has been concluded. During talks with the German Chancellor, Johnson seized on her comment that if alternative arrangements to the backstop can be found in the next two years, perhaps they could be found in the next thirty days. He implied that this meant that the EU were willing to negotiate; there had been a change in the “mood music”, he felt a renewed optimism and accepted Mrs Merkel’s “blistering timetable”. The onus, Johnson appeared to accept, was on the UK to come up with actionable solutions which would obviate the need for the backstop and prevent any chance of a hard border in Ireland. Johnson has said that the UK will not put any infrastructure on the border and would not be conducting checks, but the UK would be obliged to do so under WTO trading conditions (or open all its borders to goods from the rest of the world).
By the end of the G7 weekend, Johnson’s tune had changed, again. During his press conference, he said that the chances of a deal with the EU were “touch and go” (quite unlikely) and blamed the EU’s “obduracy” in advance for any failure to deliver – the blistering timetable, it seems, having been set aside and the “onus” placed back on “our European friends and partners”.
Johnson is also talking up the prospect of the UK reneging on its obligations to the EU for a £39 billion “divorce settlement” and musing about the prospects of shuttering parliament for five weeks almost as soon as it returns from its summer recess, but more of that later.