Boris is PM.   What comes next?

That depends on what Boris’s backers are planning. All we know for sure is that he appears intent on crashing out of the EU without any trade, immigration, transition or prior obligations arrangements.

We know something else. Boris has also presented his ‘WTO-Article-24-managed-no-deal-standstill-plan’. There has been lots of media coverage explaining why this plan is impossible, including myself on LDV.

Despite that, the Brexiteers are all still going on about this as if it is still feasible. Why?

As Boris’s recent interview with Andrew Neil suggested, he doesn’t know that his ‘standstill plan’ is not viable. His backers however know very well that this plan is just ‘Brexiteer social media fodder’ and a dead end.

The most likely explanation is that it is part of the planned blame game. For the Brexiteer base and the dominant pro-Brexit press, being able to blame the EU for crashing out is vital to the patriotic tsunami that they have planned for our country. That is what the debunked ‘standstill’ is really for. This might also explain why Boris’s reported ‘first 100 days’ team seems to be populated with  TV and press executives & experts, rather than trade specialists.

Of course, parliament may still block no deal, forcing a general election. Then the Lib Dems have a different tasks. For now we have to plan for the worst.

What is the Lib Dems’ plan of action on 1st November if the UK has crashed out of the EU the day before?

To clarify, Boris’s advisers will probably attempt four paths.

One is some kind of interim EU agreement excluding (eg) services, and agriculture, but this will be full of hiccups, with outcomes anathema to the ERG.

The alternative would be a quick skeletal-but-broader trade agreement for a range of tangible goods reducing the negative economic effects of no deal in the hardest hit areas. Without a ‘divorce deal’ however, the EU, being in a strong negotiating position, will have a long list of demands and future revisions. To stay in power with Brexiteer support Boris will have to somehow conceal the detailed schedules to this potential mini-agreement.

The third path will be a fast US trade agreement as promised by President Trump. Here there are two obstacles. One is that the US President doesn’t control US trade policy; individual states do, as Liam Fox has seemingly only just discovered (did the Heritage Foundation in DC omit to tell him?). The other problem is that the US Commerce Secretary Ross, and the US Trade Representative Lighthizer, are avowed protectionists who rail against free markets internationally. Five years might not be enough.

As these merry dances unfold, the Lib Dems in the UK and European Parliaments now have two essential tasks in cooperation with like-minded UK and EU parliamentarians.

One is to formulate a draft outline divorce deal and trade arrangement that can be put in place in the short term pending re-entry into the EU. The public will then see that there is a way out of the chaos and fiscal implosion, which will be vital if Boris’s government collapses and a general election results. The second is to arrive at a basic legal framework for re-entry to the EU, dealing with the rebate, avoiding Euro adoption, recasting unimplemented free movement rules etc. This will help scupper the mass anti re-entry propaganda from the pro-Brexit media.

Oh yes… the fourth path. Probably some kind of distraction to fuel patriotism, and help forget about economic damage. The Straits of Hormuz will do nicely. Lib Dems must have depth of position on such matters if it all cuts up rough.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance. He is a member of the Lib Dem Federal International Relations Committee and an Executive member of Liberal International (British Group).

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Becket 23rd Jul '19 - 3:03pm

    Thank you for the reference to the Straits of Hormuz. Our government accepts that the best solution is to work as part of an EU response. So why are they hell bent on leaving it?

  • It was noticeable that when Johnson was waiting for the result he was sitting next to his old chum Sir Edward Lister. No doubt a sign of who will be in ‘Team Boris’.

    According to the Guardian, Lister’s reputation during his 19 years as leader of Wandsworth Council was for cruel spending cuts and covert demographic engineering.

    Lister is also a consultant to CBRE, ‘the world’s leading global real estate advisor’. Sir Edward was most recently the Mayor of London’s Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning…… so we should be able to guess what he is interested in.

    Not a happy prospect……. but it is an opportunity for Jo Swinson to demonstrate the difference between cruel austerity, corporate greed and social liberalism.

  • John Marriott 23rd Jul '19 - 4:09pm

    “Boris is PM. What comes next.” Should that have been a question? If so, how about “chaos”?

  • Paul Barker 23rd Jul '19 - 5:18pm

    The 1st thing we need to do is face Reality, if Brexit happens we will be re-joining with The Euro & Schengen & with no Rebates, we need to say that in advance & argue for all 3 as good things.

  • I think they will surprise us all and call a second referendum. What are the current odds on this.

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd Jul '19 - 6:20pm

    Thank you for an important and interesting article.
    What are the finance market purposes and/or consequences of the various options?
    Who will gain how much from which option?

  • Boris only has one way to succeed that is to provide a successful Brexit. Impossible you say all Bredits are damaging, true but only if you look at it in a fact based way and Brexiteers don’t. They are wedded to delusion and as long as the pain threshold is kept acceptable to the majority of them, blaming the EU will work. In the short term this may work but over time more and more cuts all will kill the delusion. When police become a luxury, health a joke and people scramble to get by the oldest and economically inactive will not escape unscathed
    , in fact they will be amongst the first to be scathed. Not true they cry, but it is and that is what you most fear, so pull closer your tinfoil clothes, dream of unicorns and sunlit uplands the winter is coming, tinfoil will not keep out the cold, no unicorn will come to your aid and the uplands will be cold indeed as winter sets in.

  • Nom de Plume 23rd Jul '19 - 7:43pm

    The “patriotic tsunami” will only serve to further polarize the country. There will be those that see any problems arising as being due to the path the UK has taken (mainly Remainers), and those who think they are being victimized/ in a war (mainly Leavers). A lot will depend on how the EU plays it (if Brexit happens). Any guess as to what Mr Johnson is planning.

  • John Peters 23rd Jul '19 - 8:55pm

    @Jenny Barnes

    I’ve also seen a rumour that the USA offered to escort the ship but that was rejected as May/Hunt didn’t want to be seen as cosying up to the Yanks. I hope that rumour is not true.

  • What comes next is the breakup of the United Kingdom.

  • David Kolsky 24th Jul '19 - 8:01am

    While the President of the U.S. cannot unilaterally control foreign trade, neither can individual states of the Union under the present Constitution (ratified 1789). However they did under the Articles of Confederation (in effect 1783 to 1789).

    In fact one of the main economic drivers of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution was taking such control away from the states (which the Federalists saw as anarchic and detrimental to business) and granting it to the Congress (first & third clauses of Article I, section 8). The tenth section of Article I quite specifically denies to the states any power to lay duties, imposts, etc. on foreign or interstate commerce.

    While Barack Obama would no doubt love to have been able to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership by himself, he needed (but never got) the consent of both Houses of Congress. Similarly, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement that Donald Trump wants to replace NAFTA can’t go into effect until ratified by the congresses or parliaments of all three countries. Some trade agreements do include a “fast-track” provision which requires Congress to approve or reject them en bloc without amendments, but the President can’t execute or ratify them unilaterally.

    ¶ Parallels can no doubt be drawn between the U.S. (before and after the Constitution), the European Union (or for that matter EFTA or Imperial Free Trade), and a post-Brexit U.K. In fact The Economist once did compare U.S. and E.U. constitutional developments (perhaps, for the Constitution’s bicentennial in 1989), with an attempt to suggest that the European Communities might follow a similar path to integration as that begun in Philadelphia in 1787.

    ¶ While I would dearly love to cite the relevant sections of the Constitution here, I don’t want to add any further to the length of this comment section. But you can find the text of Article I, section 8 here:
    and of section 10 (denying external trade powers to the states) here:

  • Peter Martin 24th Jul '19 - 8:35am

    What comes next is RECESSION. But it isn’t mainly because of Brexit.

    The FT article linked to below says

    “German manufacturing industry has effectively been in recession since mid-2018”

    I’d say the whole of the EU has been in recession since 2008. But it only gets any attention when it starts to affect Germany. And it’s been this recession which has created the conditions for Brexit.

    So let’s work together cure the general economic malaise throughout Europe. This has to be a good plan for both the EU and the UK regardless of the formal nature of the relationship.

  • Peter Martin 24th Jul '19 - 10:16am

    @ Paul Reynolds,

    “The second is to arrive at a basic legal framework for re-entry to the EU, dealing with the rebate, avoiding Euro adoption, recasting unimplemented free movement rules etc”

    I’ve never really understood this argument from EU-ophiles. There are perfectly logical reasons for anyone to argue that the UK would do well to be members of the EU. But why be so half-hearted about it?

    A glance at the EU website will tell us that a goal of the EU is to:

    “establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro.”

    It doesn’t say “except for Denmark and the UK who we’d like to continue using their own issued currency”!

    So please have the courage of your convictions. If you want us to be EU members please argue that we should be enthusiastic members. The argument that the EU is fine providing we don’t have to have too much EU doesn’t sound at all convincing.

  • Why any surprise over the Iranian action? They said they’d retalliate in kind; and did.

    That is just systomatic of the lack of foresight, plannning and absolute paralysis in the government of the UK since the Brexit vote (latterly reinforced by the leadership contest).

    It seems Johnson, despite his warm words in his acceptance speech, wanted to demote him (or force his resignation).
    Boris’s past record shows that he surrounds himself with ‘yes men’ to do the detail of his duties. Unless there is a radical change in his performance it bodes ill for the UK.

  • David Kolsky 31st Jul '19 - 8:01pm

    Long-overdue self-correction: while the U.S. President can’t enact treaties on his (or her) own he doesn’t need the consent of both houses of Congress. Instead he needs the support of two-thirds of the Senate. History freaks will recall how, about a century ago, President Woodrow Wilson fell short by a vote or two of winning ratification of the League of Nations Covenant, which was an original chapter of the Treaty of Versailles. (Many say that he was too stubborn and should have accepted the Reservation proposed by Henry Cabot Lodge, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that reserved to the U.S. any obligation to fight against breakers of the Covenant.)

    The relevant language of Article II, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution reads in part:
    “He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; …”

    So Donald Trump cannot unilaterally enact any deal he may reach with Boris Johnson; he needs two-thirds of the 100 Senators (53 R, 47 D) to agree. However, it’s hard (though very far from impossible) for me to imagine the President agreeing to a deal with Boris Johnson that would be so onerous and so unpopular that 34 Senators would oppose it.

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