Can Johnson secure a Brexit deal?

Xavier Bettel © Getty Images
Invisible man: the PM refused to join a debate with his Luxembourger counterpart, Xavier Bettel

Boris Johnson could secure a Brexit deal. But the details had better be forthcoming soon. 

Boris Johnson compared himself to the “Incredible Hulk” last week, shackled by the EU but determined to break free. By Monday he had transformed into the “Invisible Man”, says Lionel Laurent on Bloomberg. Talks hosted by Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, ended with a press conference that the British PM refused to join due to loud protests. Bettel went ahead with the conference, mockingly gesturing to the empty podium. This was just the most obvious sign that Europe’s leaders, who are still waiting for concrete proposals for a replacement for the Irish backstop, are “getting frustrated” with Johnson.

A new idea to replace the backstop

Although details are still not forthcoming, it seems the PM is now willing to accept some limited regulatory alignment between the Republic and Northern Ireland to avoid a hard border, but he will have to go further if he wants an agreement, says James Blitz in the FT. Johnson’s idea would require alignment in areas such as industrial goods regulations, VAT and the role of the European Court of Justice. “Above all, there would still be a need to resolve Northern Ireland’s status inside or outside Europe’s customs union,” but it is “far from clear” that sufficient progress can be made by the 17 October deadline.

If that means we are heading for a no-deal Brexit, then even the government accepts that the consequences could be severe, says The Guardian. “Operation Yellowhammer”, the government’s official planning for a no-deal scenario that was published last week, suggests that leaving without a deal could be “a recipe for chaos, with medical supply shortages near the top of a list of consequences that are already scaring people around the country”. Even ardent supporters of no deal “could be put off by the prospect of two-day traffic jams, energy price rises, civil unrest or a lack of clean water”.

What “chaos” will look like

Calm down, says Philip Aldrick in The Times. Recovering from a no-deal Brexit will be a “long road”, but predictions of “immediate chaos” are wide of the market. It is far more likely that we will get a repeat of what happened when Calais operators went on strike for 26 days in 2015. The average delay “was four to six hours” not days and, although the disruption cost the freight industry around £750,000 a day, “food got through and no car manufacturers reported supply-chain strains”.

One thing that won’t affect the chance of a no-deal exit is the pending case before the UK Supreme Court over the legality of the decision to prorogue parliament, says Bobby Friedman in The Daily Telegraph. Proroguing parliament did not prevent MPs passing a bill to stop no deal, and if they went back to work they’d only have to break again for the conference season anyway. What happens in court may have important implications for constitutional law, but as far as Brexit itself is concerned, the “proceedings are all mouth and very little trousers”.


Lib Dems back revoking Article 50

Jo Swinson © Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images
Jo Swinson: not to be outremained

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson put Brexit at the core of the next general election campaign by promising in a speech to her party’s conference to revoke Article 50 should they win power, reports Peter Walker in The Guardian. Swinson dumped the party’s previous policy of re-running the 2016 poll in favour of halting Brexit without a second referendum. The pledge has been “divisive” even within the Liberal Democrats, but Swinson argued it was important to revoke because “there is no Brexit that will be good for our country”.

It is an “empty pledge” as the Lib Dems have little chance of winning the majority they’d need to put it into practice, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. But it does clearly signal that, with Labour now promising a referendum on a future deal, the Lib Dems “will not allow themselves to be outremained”. And with a £20m war chest allowing them to credibly contest up to 80 seats, it might prove a smart strategy. It is, however, an “entirely short-termist” one that could badly backfire, especially if the PM manages to deliver Brexit before the next election. Even if the Lib Dems are right about the “permanent polarisation of politics”, they forget that, when it comes to polarisation, “voters are already well served” by the two main parties.

Ironically, the Lib Dems’ stronger position on Brexit could be good news for Boris Johnson, says James Johnson in The Times, as it could end up splitting the Remain vote, “stopping Labour from winning or holding on against the Conservatives”. Cosmopolitan constituencies assumed to be “lost causes” could “suddenly become winnable” for the Tories.