Will the possibility of a no deal Brexit increase with Boris Johnson as British PM?

It seems Boris Johnson is a clear favorite to become a British PM. Do you think that if that happen a chance of the no-deal Brexit scenario will really increase, and what kind of reaction do you expect from the EU? Read few comments.

Boris Johnson. Credit: http://www.conservatives.com

David PhinnamoreProfessor, Dean of Education, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queens’s University Belfast

The possibility of a no deal Brexit will certainly increase with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. He has promised supporters that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October 2019 with or without a deal in place. Whether he follows through on that promise remains to be seen; there is considerable domestic opposition to a ‘no deal’ Brexit, not just among MPs. They – and Johnson – would prefer Brexit with a deal; so too would the EU, which is certainly prepared to revise the political declaration to allow MPs to support the Withdrawal Agreement. The EU remains firmly opposed, however, to re-visiting the Withdrawal Agreement, with the exception of removing the all-UK customs union arrangement – which the UK requested – and reverting to a Northern-Ireland-only backstop. This option might be attractive to Johnson, but it will be vigorously and vociferously opposed by the DUP – on which the UK government relies for its parliamentary majority – and probably others. It is exceedingly difficult to see the EU conceding a time-limit to the current backstop or a unilateral UK exit clause unless the Irish government signals otherwise.

Robin PettittSenior Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Department of Politics and International Relations, Kingston University

A win for Johnson on Tuesday (as seems almost inevitable) I believe would increase the risk of a no-deal Brexit. He has bet every ounce of his credibility and appeal to the Conservative Party members on the promise to leave on 31 October deal or no deal. I am sure he and the people around him will push hard to make that happen. Johnson and many of his supporters in the parliamentary party are so willing to play fast and loose with facts (as evidenced by the kipper story) that any warnings about the consequences of no deal Brexit will fall on deaf ears. Indeed, there are many in the Conservative Party who would say that even if the worst predictions are true (which they reject) it would be worth it for the UK to ‘regain its independence’ (what ever that means).

Having said that, Johnson is also someone who can change opinions he has held, seemingly, very firmly when it suits him. He was a environmentalist, pro-single market, socially liberal ‘modern conservative’ when that was what was required for him to become mayor of London. He is now a hard pro-Brexit, xenophobia dealing old style conservative because that seems to be what is required to become leader of the Conservative Party, and thus Prime Minister. Johnson may change again to something else if that will help him hold on to the position as Prime Minister. That is, if his position as PM becomes reliant on passing a cosmetically amended version of Theresa May’s deal he might well discover a strong commitment to such a deal.

As to the EU’s reaction. It seems that the EU27’s leaders would prefer the UK to stay, and if that is not an option then a deal, and no-deal Brexit is their least wanted option. However, I also get the impression that everybody from the top of the EU’s decision making bodies and member governments are thoroughly sick of Brexit. They may therefore be willing to deal with the mess of a no-deal Brexit just so that they can get on with other things. What they will not do is change the deal along the lines demanded by Johnson. The EU27’s leaders might, and I say that very cautiously, be willing to grant yet another extension, but considering Macron’s reluctance last time, he may be willing to say a firm ‘non’ this time.

In any case, Brexit will continue to disrupt politics in the UK for the foreseeable future, and the EU27 will eventually just want to be rid of the problem in some form, even if that mean no-deal Brexit. One of the biggest uncertainties is how Johnson will change in the light of the reality of high office and the mounting damage cause by a coming no-deal Brexit.

Han DorussenProfessor, Department of Government, University of Essex

There is indeed widespread agreement that the Conservative membership will elect Boris Johnson as the next PM. Both he and Jeremy Hunt have publicly stated that it is important to keep ’no deal’ as a possible outcome of the negotiations. Both candidates have also buckled down on their ‘red lines’ for any deal with the EU; in particular, the Irish border question. Part of his popularity with the Conservative membership is that they believe that Boris Johnson is more likely (than Jeremy Hunt) to stick to his position and to make sure that Brexit happens (with or without a deal) on October 31. Of course, a large majority of the Conservative party membership supported Brexit all along and has grown increasingly frustrated with the inability of Theresa May to deliver. Many others simply fear what would happen to the Conservative Party if any deal by which the UK leaves the EU could be seen as a compromise in which many of the promises made during the campaign did not come about.

If as expected Boris Johnson becomes the next PM, it is not clear how this actually affects the chance of a no-deal Brexit. The main problem is that time has run out to strike a meaningful deal with the EU. The best the EU can offer at this stage is a further extension, but Boris Johnson has ruled this out. Even Jeremy Hunt’s statement that he would allow for a short extension is pretty meaningless. If there is going to be a serious renegotiation, there has to be long extension (at least a year). The threat to leave the EU without a deal does not really change the bargaining situation. In my opinion, one of the fallacies of the avid Brexiteers is that they think that they could have got a better deal by bargaining ‘harder’. In fact, they should have bargained ’smarter’. I haven’t heard any creative suggestions on how Boris Johnson (or Jeremy Hunt) would move the negotiations forward.

Boris Johnson does not have a stronger mandate than Theresa May either. Nothing will have changed in the make-up of Parliament. Even if he gets the supports of the overwhelming majority of the membership of the Conservative Party, this would be only a tiny, and highly unrepresentative, share of the British electorate. A new election could provide him with a clear mandate, but there are several problems with this. First of all, it is highly uncertain that the Conservative party would do well in a next election. Secondly, the earliest that an election could be held would be in September, which would leave hardly any time for negotiating a deal with the EU.

For now I expect the EU to simply maintain its position that the deal cannot be negotiated and that the backstop is essential. The EU has already offered to make  further amendments to a political statement accompanying the deal to clarify that the Irish backstop will only be a temporary solution. Who knows, maybe a European states(wo)man will propose an initiative to pull the negotiations out of their impasse. The most likely candidates for such an initiative (Merkel, Macron, maybe Rutte) have however been remarkably silent recently. Any such initiative would however undoubtedly also involve some kind of extension of Brexit.

If an extension is indeed truly unacceptable, this would leave the Boris Johnson staring into the ‘abyss’ of a no-deal exit.

Alex de RuyterProfessor, Director, Centre for Brexit Studies, Birmingham City University

With Parliament having voted an amendment to prevent a future PM from proroguing it and so enabling a no deal exit, should the Queen be called on then a realistic compromise might be for the monarch to ask the PM to demonstrate that he had the confidence of the Commons via a vote. It is likely that the Government would lose this. This would be followed either by a General Election or by frantic attempts to form some kind of alternative administration – perhaps on the basis of confidence and supply but this is all speculative at the moment. A General Election would be problematic because if held over the Halloween deadline, the UK would be unable to request an Article 50 extension and would leave the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement by default.

Given the above, Johnson is unlikely to want to prorogue Parliament if the bill becomes law (which appears highly likely). Johnson isn’t out of options at this point, but his choices do become a lot slimmer.

He could try for an early election (in the summer or over conference season), but this would be a very high-stakes gamble. An electoral pact with the Brexit Party might be a way of doing this given that the Remain vote would probably be split.

He might leave Parliament sitting but fail to table legislation that can be easily amended in the fashion that previously allowed MPs to force a request for an extension. This is certainly arguable – many experts believe that Parliament doesn’t have the tools to block a “no-deal” exit. Personally, I am doubtful of that: the Speaker (John Bercow) has indicated a desire to see the Commons ‘have a say’ on a “no-deal” Brexit and via amendments to Government legislation is quite likely that a way will be found to ensure the Commons is able to vote on this important constitutional change.

Johnson could seek to get concessions from the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement and attempt to ram it through Parliament. However, he has talked himself into a corner with his rhetoric over the Withdrawal Agreement and especially the Protocol on Northern Ireland so this might be difficult. In any event it is only likely to work with the acquiescence of a significant part of the Labour Party, which would probably not be forthcoming.

Alternatively, Johnson might decide to hold another referendum and campaign for either a particular agreement or a “no-deal” exit, claiming that Parliament had frustrated his will to Leave. This is probably the safest way to climb down.

As to what will happen, it is ultimately very difficult to say – the entire situation is up in the air.

Benjamin MartillThe Dahrendorf Forum

Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to win the leadership race, and will – saving an unprecedented disaster in his campaign – most likely become Britain’s next prime minister.

The chance of a no deal Brexit will likely increase if this is the case, and the markets have already reflected this to some extent. Johnson favours issuing the threat of a no deal to the EU27 in order to get changes to the Irish backstop.

The EU will not agree to any changes to the backstop, but they might be amenable to change the political declaration appended to the Withdrawal Agreement. The EU hate Johnson and will not wish to give him any concessions, but the real question is whether he convinces them that he is willing to take the UK ‘off the cliff’.

Some important caveats to consider: (1) Johnson does not want no deal, he simply wants to bluff, using his supposed credibility in this regard to force concessions. (2) Johnson will be less vulnerable than May on the right of his party, and might indeed be able to get something similar to the Withdrawal Agreement through the British Parliament. (3) Johnson doesn’t believe in anything. He is neither pro- nor anti-EU, he will simply do what is best for him. Read into this what you will about the credibility of his no deal posturing!

Iain BeggProfessor, European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science

Johnson as PM would, indeed, make a no-deal outcome somewhat more likely, but I would still consider it to be quite low probability – maybe 20%. The reason is that there is still a big enough cross-party majority in the House of Commons opposed to no-deal. Exactly how it would work is open to doubt, but an extreme position would be for enough pro-deal Conservatives to support a motion of no confidence.

As for the EU, it does not want no-deal and would probably be wiling to signal a softer approach to the UK in the political statement about the future relationship. However, I doubt the EU will be willing either to re-open the withdrawal deal or to side with UK against Irish interests in relation to the ‘backstop’.

Simon UsherwoodAssociate Dean, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

It’s not clear that no-deal would become more likely with Johnson as PM, because it is still not his preferred outcome to the process and because Parliament looks more determined to avoid it happening. We also have to take account of the fact that Johnson is still campaigning, so we have to be cautious about how much his rhetoric on the campaign trail will turn into actions at the negotiating table.


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