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24 July 2019

EPC: No-deal Brexit may be the only way out for Boris Johnson

Larissa Brunner indicates that Boris Johnson's new premiership has opened the next chapter of the Brexit saga. Whether he has the will and capacity to find a positive solution is highly questionable, indicating that a no-deal outcome is the most likely.

Johnson’s constraints

The new prime minister’s room for manoeuvre is limited by several factors. First, he has painted himself into a corner through the categorical promises he made on Brexit and his ‘do or die’ rhetoric.

Second and more fundamentally, he and the Conservative Party have little choice but to deliver Brexit. With the country still deeply split and both sides becoming increasingly polarised, Tory Leavers would be unlikely to forgive a reversal. In a recent YouGov poll, 61% of Conservative members said that they would be willing to stomach significant damage to the UK economy in order to see the withdrawal from the EU come to fruition. [...]

Fourth, the EU27 are becoming increasingly unwilling to grant the UK another extension, even if there is no deal in place by 31 October. There is a sense of disillusionment in the Union about the way the current delay is being used by the UK, the growing polarisation in UK politics and society where anything short of ‘no deal’ or ‘no Brexit’ is seen as unacceptable by the two camps respectively, and the inability of the UK Government and Parliament to find a positive solution. [...]

How to avoid no deal: Two narratives

These constraints imply that current narratives on how a no-deal Brexit can be avoided might not come to fruition.

The first narrative – which involves Johnson performing a U-turn by winning some concessions from the EU and getting the Withdrawal Agreement passed through Westminster – cannot be excluded, but appears unlikely given both Johnson’s and the EU’s categorical demands.

The second narrative depicts the UK Parliament once again expressing its opposition to a no-deal exit, which Johnson accepts before heading into an early general election without having left the EU, and possibly after requesting and being granted another extension by the EU27 to allow sufficient time to organise the vote. This would probably amount to career suicide for Johnson. His party would be unlikely to forgive any further delay, he would lose all credibility and support for the Brexit Party might surge. This could lead to the right-wing vote being split between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives, thus paving the way for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to bag the ruling seat – an unmitigated disaster for Johnson, the Conservative Party and its voters.

This links to the third narrative: rather than accept the risk of a general election, Johnson ignores Parliament’s opposition to a no-deal exit. With the 31 October deadline looming, a no-confidence motion is put forward. Desperate to avoid a no-deal Brexit, several Conservative MPs vote against their own party. Johnson is ousted and replaced by a unity candidate, who is granted another extension by the EU27 to find a solution.


However, events are unlikely to unfold as smoothly as depicted in this third scenario. [...]

Nonetheless, the constraints Johnson and the other actors face mean that a reversal of Brexit or a further delay is unlikely, and that the ability of Parliament to prevent no deal is limited. Indeed, from the viewpoint of narrow party-political and personal interest lines, a no-deal Brexit on 31 October – by design, stealth and/or default – might be the rational decision for Johnson.

Full article on EPC


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