Brexit

Johnson Makes a Hard Brexit All But Inevitable

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

There's still a few weeks remaining before a "hard" no-deal Brexit becomes a certainty and it could still be avoided, but a hard Brexit is looking very likely now.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has moved ahead with his plans to break his own withdrawal agreement with the European Union (EU) and that has moved trade talks closer to collapse than they've ever been.

The EU has demanded that Johnson walk back his plans if he still wants to make a deal, but the Johnson regime says they won't back down even though breaking the withdrawal agreement violates international law and could even lead to fresh violence in Ireland.

The proposed legislation would override aspects of a landmark Brexit withdrawal agreement involving the treatment of the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will remain in the European Union.

In a toughly worded statement that underscored the growing tension, the European Commission — the bloc’s executive arm — suggested it was ready to take legal action against the British government, accusing it of threatening Northern Ireland’s fragile peace process.

Mr. Johnson himself struck the withdrawal agreement with the European Union and championed it during last year’s election on his way to a landslide victory. It was crafted in part to prevent the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

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“As the United Kingdom looks to what kind of future trade relationship it wants with the European Union, a prerequisite for that is honouring agreements that are already in place,” said Pascal Donohoe, chairman of euro zone finance ministers.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday, after talks in London, that the bloc was increasing its planning for a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year after trade talks made little progress.

“The UK has not engaged in a reciprocal way on fundamental EU principles and interests,” Barnier said. “Nobody should underestimate the practical, economic and social consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario.”

Here on our side of the Atlantic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there will also be no trade deal between the United States and Britain if the latter breaks their withdrawal agreement with the EU.

"If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress," Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday.

UK government ministers insist that the legislation would protect, not undermine, the Good Friday accord. The EU vehemently disagreed on Thursday. "The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft Bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite," the European Commission said in a statement. It gave the UK until the end of the month to withdraw the disputed parts of the bill.

Ordinarily I would say we don't have much of a leg to stand on when criticizing foreign governments and their decision to break agreements -- because of Trump -- but Pelosi is clearly thinking ahead to next year; to the Biden administration.

It probably goes without saying that the Trump regime doesn't give two shits what Boris Johnson does especially if what he does offends the European Union, but that will not be true for the next session of Congress even if Trump is reelected.

European officials have given Johnson until the end of this month to change his plans, but it's hard to see that happening.

A hard Brexit was always more likely than not because the truth is there's no such thing as a perfect Brexit; no such thing as a Brexit that does not include significant economic pain and red tape. And Britain will not muscle its way out of the economic slump that's coming from the dueling blows of the coronavirus pandemic and the Brexit. There's not going to be any fairytale ending here. The British empire will not be reborn no matter how many Britons want that.

In some ways, Boris Johnson is placing his country in a position that will be more difficult to recover from than what Trump has done. Trump's trade wars have been initiated through executive action and they can be undone the same way, for example, but the Brexit is more or less forever. The next prime minister can't rejoin the European Union by signing an executive order.

  • muselet

    I’ve long argued—to the point of being tiresome about it—that Boris Johnson isn’t stupid, exactly, just blinded by his reflexive anti-Europeanism (and terrified that he’s insufficiently anti-EU to keep Nigel Farage’s clown army at bay). Johnson also seems to believe he can make up for the loss of access to the EU’s market with bilateral trade (spoilers: that’s not at all realistic).

    I feel I must revise my working hypothesis. Johnson truly is stupid. Well-educated in that peculiarly upper-class British way—able to use Latin phrases and quote Kipling fluently—but without the sense God gave a cabbage.

    Thanks are due to Nancy Pelosi for making it clear the US will not bail out Johnson if (when?) things go south.

    –alopecia

    • KanaW

      Fingers crossed that Nancy Pelosi is able to stick to her guns on this. The only way the UK is going to get rid of Johnson is is things get so bad so quickly that there can be a vote of no confidence and another election, with labour/libdems in instead. It will still mean going to the EU with hat in hand and asking them what we’d have to do to be allowed back in. They would take a hard line, in that we’d not be able to call any of the shots we have been able to since the inception, and we would have to agree that we will never leave on our own choice, but that’s better than what will happen for the next century under Brexit.