Negotiation is an art of give-and-take, and UK prime minister Boris Johnson wants to give nothing and take all. Johnson and his so skillfully skewed cabinet that is bent on a no-deal Brexit seem to forget that not so long ago he evaluated the chances of a no-deal Brexit as one in a million.
Judging from the government’s reaction to the leaked Yellowhammer papers, a no-deal Brexit seems likelier than ever, regardless of the consequences. In describing the leaked documents as being “scaremongering,” and “outdated,” Johnson’s government is once again avoiding the issue by not answering the question – namely, what will happen after a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson’s idea of compromise is his conviction that scrapping the Irish backstop is not only possible but also a prerequisite for further negotiations between London and Brussels. His position is more than just wishful thinking – it is completely fallacious.
In asking the EU to leave one of its borders completely open as if it were an integral part of the single market, the EU would be open to the UK’s deregulated market. Johnson either underestimates the importance of the single market in the construction of the EU, or severely overestimates the leverage power that the UK has over Europe. In either case it represents a major short-sightedness of a man who through misguided over-confidence in himself sees everything as excessively easy and extremely manageable.
The EU must not budge for fear of selling its soul to the lowest bidder. It is not easy to stick to European principles given the fragility of a large number of major EU economies and Johnson is relying on that fact to propagate cracks in EU unity that has, up to now, been beyond reproach.
Brussels now faces a choice – take the economic risk of camping on its position regarding the Irish backstop, fully aware of the economic and social consequences of a no-deal Brexit, or give in to the UK demands and scrap the backstop. If the EU does concede, not only will Johnson’s already inflated ego reach gargantuan proportions, but the credibility of the European project – whether you believe in and/or support greater EU integration (not to say Federalism) or not – will have taken such a blow that serious questions will have to be asked concerning the direction in which the EU is heading.
In issuing threats, Boris Johnson is acting like a spoiled child who won’t take “no” for an answer and goes back on his word. The withdrawal agreement that includes the Irish backstop is the only agreement that is in place to enable the UK and EU to negotiate a trade agreement post-Brexit. In alluding to “alternative arrangements,” that would comprise technology, Johnson is being as vague as he has always been, having no answer to his own questions – namely, what sort of technology shall be used, and how. In 3 years he and others have been incapable of coming up with alternative solutions apart from vague notions concerning “alternative” technologies.
Whilst it is clear that the agreement is not perfect, it is the only one that carries with it a viable solution for Northern Ireland. Scrapping it and beginning anew would delay Brexit by so much that some would begin to wonder whether it will happen at all.
Both the EU and the UK are wrong if they think that Brexit will not have a significant economic impact for both sides. Member-states such as the Netherlands and Ireland will suffer from the UK’s departure. But the EU must ask itself if it is ready and willing to give in to the tantrums of one of its member-states whose sole reasons for leaving are based on the wish to halt immigration and disregard collective regulations. A typical example of the UK’s attitude towards EU regulations is Anne Widdecombe’s outburst at the European Parliament where she bemoaned EU regulations regarding the mesh size of fishing nets.
It is not the fault of the EU that the UK has decided to shoot itself in the foot, and the UK’s attitude must certainly not intimidate the EU-27. Brussels must stand firm on a matter of principle – namely, the preservation of its internal market.
In resisting Boris Johnson’s threats, the EU member-states will not only be showing an unprecedented sign of togetherness but will demonstrate that the power of the EU as a collective entity is much greater than that of its individual member-states.
Let the UK leave now without a deal. The big-wigs in Westminster will come back to the EU, representing a WTO nation, to seek a free trade agreement. A free-trade agreement that does not involve an Irish backstop of some sort or another? What balderdash, Mister Johnson!!