Bungling Boris and his baffling Brexit bravado

Likely next PM, Boris Johnson, now has the unenviable task of facing disgruntled Tory party members at hustings across the UK. Worse, he has to do this side-by-side with the bland Jeremy Hunt.

Boris is surely aware that these disgruntled souls feel that way because, after 40 years of anti-EU and anti-immigrant campaigning by the far-right UK press, they were then promised (and voted for) a painless easy Brexit, and a grovelling EU. Once Brexit is implemented, the UK can then go about kicking out various foreigners, as they have been led to believe. Britain as a Great Power, they believe, would be able to trade with the EU on the same easy terms as now, and on better terms with the rest of the world … whilst ending free movement in the EU and severing all links with the European Court of Justice and its supposed terrorist-loving human rights regime.

The last three years has inevitably dented such ‘true faith’ beliefs as reality has set in. However the Tory members being faced by Boris in the coming weeks have been desperate to find a saviour who can restore their faith, and preserve their whole weltanschauung. Boris has found a very willing audience indeed for the view that the stalemate of the last three years is not due to inflated expectations at all. No. They are merely due to Theresa May, Olly Robbins and Mark Sedwill being weak negotiators. These Tories desperately want to believe in Boris and believe that all the promises can be kept and their patriotic beliefs kept intact.

Thus Boris has to give them what they want, and he has made it his raison d’etre. His audience must have hope to cling on to. Boris, though vague so far, does have a discernible plan for them to lap up. It will probably be presented to Tories like this.

He will say that Article XXIV of the GATT and Article V of the GATS (WTO conditions of membership) allow the UK to declare that after Oct 31st  they are ‘in the process’ of negotiating a new trade agreement and thus the EU is allowed to give the UK special treatment and continue the current tariff & regulatory regime as an interim agreement, giving the UK 10 years to negotiate a permanent deal. He will say that the EU will be forced to agree to this interim agreement, and allow the UK to exclude free movement and ECJ jurisdiction from it, because if they don’t accept all this, the UK will refuse to pay the £39bn EU exit fee.

Piffle and balderdash. 

Article XXIV of GATT does allow the EU to establish an interim agreement over 10 years, bypassing the WTO rules on equal treatment of all WTO member trading partners, but:

* The EU and UK must agree a detailed negotiating plan (very unlikely) which is then challengeable by all WTO members, bringing it to a halt

* The interim agreement must cover all previous trade agreement subjects and the UK or EU cannot exclude any components of it (in other words it must be just like staying in the EU for 10 years)

* The EU has to agree to it all and to the detailed schedule (and they won’t consider this unless the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified)

* No deal is not a deal.

Importantly, the £39bn ‘threat’ is no threat at all, because it is not an exit fee. It is payment of prior obligations already contracted for, including loans. If the UK does not meet it’s commitments it is defaulting on loans and contracts. That will dramatically increase interest rates paid by the UK for future borrowing. That will increase costs at the same time that tax revenues will be falling, creating a downward spiral of higher loans and higher interest rates. Good luck.

* 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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  • William Fowler 23rd Jun '19 - 11:22am

    “importantly, the £39bn ‘threat’ is no threat at all, because it is not an exit fee. It is payment of prior obligations already contracted for, including loans.”

    Actually, we will have paid in another 4.5 billion over the March to Oct period, and 18 billion of it is only due if there is an implementation period post Oct 31st, not sure if that is supposed to be 18 months or two years now that we will be six months into the implementation period if we had left in March. The rest of the money is not immediately due but spread over 40 years, as agreed, to cover our legal obligations. So Boris can threaten to withhold circa 18 billion if there is no deal, without doing anything illegal as May’s deal has not yet been signed off by parliament.

    It then becomes a question of who will blink first as Oct 31st comes around, Boris thinks the EU will give and seems willing to put his political career on the line… actually, he is more likely to go for a second referendum than anything else which would lurch the Conservatives back on to the centre ground (where Boris exists) whilst the ERG then ponders its own career suicide.

  • John Marriott 23rd Jun '19 - 12:50pm

    If Johnson actually does come out on top in July, here’s a joke for political anoraks:

    Which one is the ‘odd man out’ : the Leader of Ukraine, the Leader of the Five Star Movement in Italy and the Leader of British Tory Party?

    Answer: the Leader of the Tory Party, because the other two are comedians trying to be politicians, whereas the Leader of the Tory Party is a politician trying to be a comedian.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jun '19 - 1:21pm

    Paul. You, like far too many others, are assuming that the next Tory leader will be PM. I don’t think this is a certainty at all. If indeed Johnson becomes Tory leader and this leads to an exodus of just a handful of Tory MPs then he will not have a majority and would not be certain of winning a vote of confidence.
    So either the government falls or a General Election is engineered or the rather fantastical Government of national unity emerges to stop Brexit via a referendum.
    What interesting times we live in

  • There was a question which the present Prime Minister asked of those who were advocating a better deal for leaving the EU was what this better deal would look like. She go no answer. Now whichever one is Prime Minister will have to answer that.
    My opinion is that this is where Johnson is going to have a problem. He will not be able to answer. But Farage will continue to claim that anything proposed is a sell out.
    I hope that our newly enlarged group of MEPs give priority to telling the truth about Europe, and counteracting the childish slogans about taking back control and faceless bureaucrats telling us what to do.
    I look forward to getting emails with our own simple slogans, and links to help us to spread the message.

  • Paul Reynolds 23rd Jun '19 - 1:43pm

    Yes Mick. Quite right. Good point. On balance of probability it means a ‘who runs Britain’ General Election October or November if the majority is lost.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jun '19 - 2:28pm

    Mick Taylor: and the DUP will possibly want to negotiate another deal when the current one runs out. More money perhaps? and something political about Northern Ireland?
    Will the elected Assembly actually meet? Will anything happen on abortion reform?

  • Nom de Plume 23rd Jun '19 - 2:46pm

    patriotism + rejecting the reality of international relations = nationalism

    After Brexit, if this attitude continues, more traditional expressions of nationalism are likely.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jun '19 - 3:09pm
  • David Becket 23rd Jun '19 - 3:47pm

    It is claimed, following the fracas at Johnson”s fla,t that his Toyota accumulates Parking Tickets. If somebody knows the registration number of the vehicle a FOI request should be made.
    That this man is totally unsuitable to be PM is glaringly obvious to everybody except died in the wool Tories. The one good that should come out of this mess is the end of the Tory party, which has descended into a right wing rabble only interested in their own survival.
    Brexiteers cannot now accuse us of ignoring democracy, that a handful of head bangers can appoint the PM is an affront to democracy.

  • Paul Reynolds 23rd Jun '19 - 5:13pm

    Ha ha thank you Richard. Wonderful. Recently I was travelling around Lincolnshire with a friend from Leicester who is looking to move to the Lincs countryside. Maybe 20 house viewings in total over a long period. Every one of the vendors was quite advanced in years, and every one very emotional about Brexit; prompted to raise the matter in most cases probably by my London elocution style. The German part of my family says there is no English equivalent of weltanschauung, and in the cases above it is definitely not the narrower ‘worldview’. Can you also advise if I have used the word ‘elocution’ correctly ? Very best wishes. See you in Brecon.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jun '19 - 6:35pm

    David Becket: I think you mean dyed in the wool Tories. They may give the impression of having died but often they are alive and kicking and rooting for Johnson and Brexit.

  • David Becket 23rd Jun '19 - 8:21pm

    Yes Mick, typo. Easy to do when you are angry

  • I’m trying to think which Simpsons characters best fit Hunt and Johnson. Sideshow Boris maybe? What about Hunt?

  • John Marriott 24th Jun '19 - 9:27am

    @Paul Reynolds
    Yep, that’s Lincolnshire for you. Welcome to the 18th Century! As for ‘Weltanschauung’, it’s a bit like words such as ‘Leitmotif’, or ‘Zeitgeist’, words used by intellectuals in English conversation to show their superiority! I think an apt German description of the kind of people you describe might be ‘Spiesbürger’.

  • John Marriott 24th Jun '19 - 9:34am

    By the way, ‘Spießbürger’ means something like philistine to you and me. To be honest, they could do with a bit of ‘Weltanschauung’ if you ask me. They might then realise just what most of the world actually thinks of us at the moment!

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