1 August 2019

In his first week in office, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to have overcome one of the major challenges hamstringing his predecessor: uniting his Cabinet behind the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal. A united Government will enable Johnson to up the pressure on both the EU and Parliament. What happens as a result remains highly uncertain.

During a reportedly challenging phone call earlier this week between Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Johnson insisted that unless the backstop is removed, there is no prospect of a deal passing Parliament and that he would deliver Brexit on 31 October “no matter what.” The judgment that, without substantive changes, the thrice defeated deal is likely to fall again is hard to argue with. Meanwhile, Varadkar is reported to have reiterated that the EU’s existing position on the backstop will not change and that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened. So, we have stalemate heading into the summer holidays.

A deal does not remain entirely impossible. However, the acceleration of No Deal preparations illustrates that the Government is operating under the assumption that the EU will not compromise and that Parliament is increasingly likely to be confronted with the choice of No Deal or stopping Brexit (one way or another). That said, beyond revoking Article 50, there are no obvious legally binding routes to stopping No Deal. Bringing Johnson down in a no confidence motion triggering a general election might offer a possible solution, but if MPs get the timing wrong (as they did when we last approached the Article 50 deadline) this will not be enough.

No Deal remains the default scenario on 31 October and everyone should plan for this eventuality. Open Europe will soon be publishing a new report setting out how the UK should prepare.


News in brief


1. Boris Johnson tours the UK

Boris Johnson visited Scotland on Monday, Wales on Tuesday and Northern Ireland on Wednesday as part of his first cross-country tour as Prime Minister. He also held a phone call with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and said that “we have to have that [Irish] backstop out of the [Brexit] deal.” Varadkar said that “the backstop was necessary as a consequence of decisions taken in the UK and by the UK Government.”

2. No Deal preparations ramp up

The Government is focusing its efforts on preparing for a No Deal scenario with measures including an information campaign, over £2bn extra funding from the Exchequer, and a £500m plan to help UK farmers. However, Johnson said that agreeing a new deal with the EU remained his priority. Meanwhile, the EU Commission stated that its No Deal preparedness is complete and “protects” the EU.

3. Brecon and Radnorshire by-election held today

This by-election in a marginal, rural Welsh seat is the first electoral test for Johnson. A Conservative defeat to the Liberal Democrats would reduce the Government’s working majority in Parliament to just three. This could prove critical if a vote of no confidence is held in October. See Open Europe’s calendar of key events in the coming three months here.


Open Europe experts in the media


Stephen Booth writes for Times Red Box, “There are around 140 MPs who theoretically ‘respected’ the result of the referendum by voting to trigger Article 50 but are simultaneously opposed to leaving with a deal and without a deal. There comes a time when the real choices need to be confronted. MPs have tried and failed for over three years to nuance the referendum result. We’ve had endless debates about membership of customs unions, the single market, ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexits. Their miscalculations and failure to compromise have turned this into a binary choice, which, ultimately, it always was. Everything else is a detail.”

Pieter Cleppe appeared on Al Jazeera English saying, “EU leaders will soon have to make up their minds on Brexit if they push on that No Deal button or not.”

Can Parliament stop a No Deal Brexit? “It can try to bring down the Government and trigger a General Election or force the revocation of Article 50… Beyond that, we are getting into guessing” – Henry Newman told Channel 4 News. Newman also discussed whether there is a mandate for No Deal from the 2016 Referendum on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.