Brexit: Will Boris Johnson be able to quickly get the UK out of the EU?

I was interviewed by 20 Minutes about the prospect of Johnson getting the UK out of the EU. I am extremely dubious that with a whisker thin parliamentary majority and a divided party he will be able to accomplish his aim of leaving by Halloween.

The full article in French is here:


Brexit: Will Boris Johnson be able to quickly get the UK out of the EU?

In 2015, Boris Johnson claimed that he was less likely to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom " than to be reincarnated as an olive ". For his second fruit life, it will take a little. Since this Wednesday, it is the one that is nicknamed "BoJo" who is at the helm of a country shaken by the crisis with Iran and deeply divided on the Brexit .

On the latter subject, the new Prime Minister, from the Conservatives (the Tories ), is optimistic. "We are going to implement Brexit on October 31st," said Boris Johnson immediately after his appointment. Which leaves him exactly 99 days to succeed where Theresa May failed after months and months of postponements.

A non-negotiable withdrawal agreement

To carry out his mission, however, Boris Johnson will have to overcome several obstacles. The first is obviously the European Union. The leaders of the continent could possibly rediscuss with him the "political declaration", which must define the contours of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU. On the other hand, "there is no indication that European negotiators are ready to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement," says David Blunt, senior lecturer in international relations at the City University of London.

This document, negotiated for nearly seventeen months, lists almost 600 pages of the terms of the divorce. In particular, it provides for a " backstop" which would prevent the return of a physical border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. "The head of the Irish government has made it clear that there is no question of going back on this," said David Blunt.

The margin of maneuver Boris Johnson on the text seems very small. However, it is this withdrawal agreement that caused the fall of Theresa May. The former prime minister had tried everything to get the green light from the British Parliament. Unsuccessful: MEPs voted against the agreement three times.

A Parliament to take with tweezers

This is where the second obstacle to Boris Johnson's "Brexit Mission" arises. "He has a very small majority of only two seats in Parliament," said David Blunt. And he will probably lose one next week, because of a by-election where the pro-EU candidate is a favorite. "

"The conservative majority is extremely tense, not to say ungovernable, judge for its part Agnès Alexandre-Collier, doctor of political science at Sciences-Po Paris. Boris Johnson nevertheless has one advantage: his party has tightened ideologically around hard-Brexiters (supporters of a hard line against the EU), which for the moment are rather favorable. But beware of the backlash: "If the Europeans refuse to renegotiate the agreement, we will return to exactly the same point as with Theresa May, warns the specialist of British politics. This could prompt the opposition to launch a motion of no confidence, which could be voted on with the support of a few moderate conservative politicians ".

A real scenario at the House of Cards. For if the British government were to lose a vote of confidence in Parliament, it would open the door to new general elections (the equivalent of legislative elections). "This is the nightmare scenario that Boris Johnson wants to avoid at all costs," said David Blunt. The Conservatives could be swept away because of their inability to lead the Brexit. If he sees that he can not accept a No Deal (an exit without agreement) or a new agreement to the deputies, Boris Johnson could very well announce the holding of a second referendum."

Boris the extravagant

The last hurdle to Boris Johnson's goal might be ... Boris Johnson himself. "He plays a lot on his public image, on this form of extravagance that makes him popular," says Agnès Alexandre-Collier. A dangerous game according to David Blunt: "The fans of Boris Johnson tend to forget that he was Foreign Minister Theresa May, and he participated in negotiations with the EU. At the time, his amateurism earned him to be mocked by European leaders who did not take it seriously. Now on the front line, "BoJo" will have to deploy all his talents to convince the EU leaders to discuss with him. If he fails, he can always ... reincarnate as an olive.