Boris Johnson goes full speed ahead as Brexit deadline approaches

SELIM GÖNEN
ISTANBUL
Published 11.08.2019 00:00

Brexit is officially a do-or-die mission for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson if no one comes for a last-minute rescue, as far as Brussels is concerned. EU leaders were shaken after being given 48 hours to prove they are ready for a "no-deal" Brexit following a meeting between commission officials and Brexit diplomats from each of the 27 EU countries on Monday. Many were led to believe that Johnson wasn't "bluffing" about his approach to the situation. Once a fantasy scenario, now the possible reality of the U.K.'s exit is setting in, as time passes.

"It was clear the U.K. does not have another plan," a senior EU diplomat said of the meetings.

Mehmet Ali Tuğtan, an academic in international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University, explains that the prime minister's behavior with a sort of risky political power game that is currently being played between Johnson and the EU.

"I don't think that Johnson, or any other politician with good sense, would consciously push for a no-deal Brexit in which case both parties involved would suffer economically. The goal of playing this card here is pushing the opposition for maximum compromise. It's sort of like a game to see who's going to put on the brakes first. The risky part of playing these types of games is that they are being played openly to the general public, so there's a chance that no one actually stops."

Britain and the bloc are accusing each other of torpedoing talks. British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove accused the EU on Tuesday of "refusing to negotiate with the U.K." It is important to recall that former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had said that the withdrawal agreement was "the best and only agreement possible," soon after the conclusion of the Tory leadership race.

The apparent conflict between the two sides is not only economic, but also ideological. The EU has a hierarchy of interests, the most important of which is self-preservation, meaning the continued existence and development of the union. Brexit as a whole is a disruption to everything the EU strives to represent.

Brussels had made preparations to revamp former Prime Minister Theresa May's 585-page long withdrawal agreement to make it more appealing to Brexiteers but Johnson's uncompromising tone led them to believe that he was setting them up to fail, paving his way to hold an early election. They see this decision as a step toward confrontation, rather than compromise.

It currently looks like both sides don't want to give an inch, Johnson doesn't intend to make any friends in the EU as he is painting an image that shows his unwillingness to negotiate, and the EU countries are clear with their opinions about Brexit.

Internal fractures shake Tories

Johnson made sure that the Conservative Party is a Brexit party. He reshuffled May's Cabinet and stocked it with true Brexit believers who would then turn their attention to winning a general election in the aftermath of Oct. 31.

This naturally created divisions among conservative MPs. The recent trajectory points at a possible confrontation with a Parliament which had previously signaled that it would do all in its power to stop him from leaving the EU without a deal, in the possible scenario that the talks run into the ground in Brussels.

"The most simple thing is the prime minister believes that politicians don't get to choose which votes they respect, that is the critical issue," said Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings on Wednesday.

Pro-EU British lawmakers are gearing up for a final effort to prevent a no-deal Brexit. But it's not clear whether Parliament can halt a prime minister who insists the U.K. will leave on Oct. 31 "come what may."

MPs are running out of time and mechanisms to legislate against a no deal, raising the prospect that Johnson's own deputies could join a vote of no-confidence and collapse the government when Parliament returns in September.

However, this clash between Conservative MPs is more circumstantial than it is permanent, Mehmet Ali Tuğtan said. "Just as Jeremy Corbyn's more left-leaning politics create fractions inside the Labor Party, Johnson's right-leaning politics create tensions among the center-right and the hard-right Conservatives. With that being said, I doubt that the fractions will institutionalize in the form of a new separate Conservative party in the long run."

Out with EU countries, in with Trump

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had been dispatched to Washington to hold talks with top American trade officials about a possible post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. Raab's first Washington trip had been nothing but smooth.

Boris Johnson is currently looking to benefit from warmer relations with U.S. President Donald Trump than his predecessor Theresa May, despite the fact that his willingness to leave the EU without a negotiated settlement with Britain's longtime partners will play into the hands of Trump.

Given his stance regarding the 27 EU countries, it looks like he is putting himself in a corner and has no other choice but to make new friends if he wants to soften the economic shock that the U.K. will probably suffer if they actually leave on Oct. 31.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar had stated that in the wake of a no-deal, negotiations on a future trading relationship would still be out of the question until some matters in the current withdrawal deal were resolved. If the U.K. were to accept a deal without the mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland that could keep them in a customs union, they would be outside the single market and would suffer critical economic consequences. A no-deal, with the backstop of the Irish frontier, would be dramatic for the U.K. A no-deal, with a strong frontier in Ireland would be the dismissal of the peaceful solution in Ireland. The EU has repeatedly stated that the withdrawal agreement signed by Johnson's predecessor would not be re-opened for negotiation and the Irish backstop was an insurance policy that Brussels could not get rid of. Johnson has said that a no-deal Brexit would be the fault of the EU.

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