ANDREW FARRAN. Boris will get his Brexit but at what cost?

Jul 31, 2019

Will PM Boris Johnson crash through and with what consequences if he does? He has set himself a wild challenge, on the level of do or die. Determined to achieve Brexit even without a deal, the likelihood at this stage is that he will get his Brexit but with consequences that will leave Britain anything but ‘great’; indeed relatively weaker (see: John McCarthy at: ).

Boris is not looking for a nice way around the impasse which has so bogged down his predecessor and the country. He has marshalled his troops ruthlessly and his hard core of negotiators will brook no ‘ifs and buts’.

They are correctly anticipating that the EU will not accommodate the UK on the Irish ‘backstop’. If it were to do so it would be letting down its other 27 members for whom the integrity of the customs union and the single market is sacrosanct. Without the backstop on the Irish Border the EU would start leaking everywhere. One leak encourages another. Moreover the EU’s mood is responding as expected to what it regards as British arrogance and hauteur.

Hell bent on a great show of strength Boris’ team will go for a no-deal exit notwithstanding other alternatives. They will argue there are none. Proroguing Parliament would be seen as a coward’s way out. Indeed it would be cheating. And they shouldn’t forget Charles 1 whose fate was sealed not a few doors from Downing Street. Revoking Article 50 of the EU Treaty is certainly not on the cards.


Parliament will be in recess until early September. The government is gearing up massively for a no-deal exit which may mitigate disruption domestically but not externally where globally interconnected supply lines and intra-European travel may be adversely affected for some time.

When Parliament does resume full attention will be given to moves to rule out a no-deal Brexit, led by the former Chancellor Philip Hammond. This may succeed but it would be unacceptable to the government which would then be minded to call for a General Election, which will be granted. The Labor Party would support this, though it would prefer a second referendum which the Brexiteers reject outright. It doesn’t fit their power play. By going hard for Brexit Boris expects to defang Nigel Farage’s party, thereby getting sufficient first preference votes to defeat other contenders and form a fresh look government with a clear mandate to get Brexit first and foremost, regardless.

At the elections Prime Minister Boris will appropriate the Leave arguments from the 2016 Referendum as Government policy and add some, depicting a great escape for Britain together with rich trade deals with the rest of the world (highlighting the US). This should allow Britain to leave the EU without an agreement close to 31 October as scheduled. At that point there will be wild cheers, in the streets at least, but not in the south-east.

Trade complications for Britain and the world

The damage caused by this will come not long after notwithstanding the government’s efforts in the meantime, as noted, to minimise the expected disruption. With regard to new trade deals the first problem will be to establish the UK’s independent status in the WTO, which will be akin to an accession.

First, it would have to establish a national tariff schedule, having disentangled itself from the EU in this regard, and meeting countless challenges from many disaffected CONTRACTING PARTIES who will be seeking consultations and compensation pursuant to Articles 22 and 23 of the GATT as administered by the WTO. This could  take years to reach an interim stage, let alone to complete (see Gary Sampson at:

Second, to negotiate a trade agreement with the US would also require detailed consideration as to how that would impinge on the US’s FTA arrangements with Canada and Mexico, and its bilateral trade relations generally. Australia would have a direct interest in this process both in relation to the US and the UK/EU about which its present expectations would seem over optimistic. An FTA must include ‘substantially all the trade’ between its parties and not create higher barriers against third parties than existed previously. As much of British trade consists of trade in services there would be additional regulatory difficulties in relation to both the US and its future dealings with the EU.

If in their frustration Trump on the US side and Boris on the British side were to ride roughshod over the rules of the WTO and other international agreements – as part of Trump’s campaign to undermine and eventually destroy the best features of the existing rules-based multilateral system – there would be serious global implications. For Britain it would be more than embarrassing to be seen as an accomplice to such recklessness. China might take advantage of this disruption. It would greatly complicate Britain’s future dealings with the EU over unresolved issues, inevitably now with rancour.

In short Boris will get his Brexit but …..

In short, Boris will get his Brexit but the poor British won’t know in the event what hit them! The Scots will be agitating further for independence and the Irish will (forgive the expression) be shat off being stuck again with a hard border with its repercussions for the Good Friday Agreement. As one wag stated, Boris may soon be making the last statement to Parliament of a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Andrew Farran is a former diplomat, law academic and trade policy adviser who has been following the Brexit process closely ad infinitum.

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