Brexit Britain from Abroad: Boris Johnson Challenges Theresa May on Hard Brexit
Johnson Rallies Britain for a Hard Brexit
How far can the United Kingdom deviate from the rules of the European Union (EU) without losing its free access to this market of 500 million inhabitants? While Theresa May fails to answer this crucial question, her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, has added a layer of fog and challenged the prime minister again by delivering a long speech on Tuesday, February 14th in London.
Certainly, the former leader of the pro-Brexit campaign considers the divorce with the Twenty-Seven as "a considerable opportunity" and "a manifestation of the national genius" British. But he also admitted that "in terms of European standards for washing machines or hairdryers (...), it might be wise for us to stay aligned".
Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator on Brexit, is impatient to know the British goals and part of the May government defends maximum alignment on the EU. Mr Johnson, for his part, has argued in favor of a "liberal Brexit" , a clear break allowing the United Kingdom to "free itself" of certain European tax, ethical, customs and environmental rules.
Johnson Exposes May’s Weakness
The idea that he has traction with remain voters is absurd,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, “so it has to be about something else, and that has to be about keeping himself in the public eye.”
It would not be the first time. Last year he caused a stir before the Conservative Party’s annual conference by publishing a lengthy essay on his Brexit vision. More recently, he made headlines with calls for higher health spending, perhaps seeking to justify his widely debunked claim that quitting the European Union would free up around $500 million a week for the National Health Service.
Years ago, Mr. Johnson’s famously dismissed his prospects of becoming prime minister as being “about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or me being reincarnated as an olive.”
But more recently — and plausibly — he admitted his ambitions, likening his approach to becoming leader to grabbing a football if it “came loose from the back of the scrum,” a term from Rugby football akin to a fumble in American football.
In 2016 that ball slipped, agonizingly, from his grasp after the Brexit referendum, when Mr. Johnson was abandoned by key allies and forced to withdraw from the contest to replace the former prime minister, David Cameron, who quit after the plebiscite. Theresa May went on to take the crown.
But Mr. Johnson may be sensing another moment of opportunity, as Mrs. May struggles to control her cabinet amid calls from some of her own lawmakers for her to step aside.
Brexit has caught her in an unforgiving political vise. A “soft”, departure, protecting business by retaining close economic ties to the bloc, is being opposed by Brexit enthusiasts in the cabinet, including Mr. Johnson.
But a “hard Brexit,” or clean break, of the type such right-wing and Brexit supporters favor, could be rejected by Parliament, plunging Mrs. May’s government into a terminal crisis.
That conundrum has paralyzed decision making in London, leaving Mrs. May looking weak, unable to tell European Union negotiators (or the British public) what future relationship she wants with the bloc.
Mr. Johnson’s was the first in a series of speeches by ministers — including one by Mrs. May scheduled for Saturday — designed to fill that vacuum. But if this speech is any indication, the British public and European negotiators may be disappointed.
Mr. Johnson provided little in the way of new ideas or approaches in his remarks, which a Labour lawmaker, Yvette Cooper, dismissed as “waffly, bumbling, empty.”
The New York Times
Boris Johnson Has No Solutions
Johnson was setting out his position within the internal cabinet debate about regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit. Chancellor Philip Hammond and home secretary Amber Rudd, in common with most of British business, want to remain as closely aligned with the EU as possible. Johnson wants Britain to be able to choose to align with EU regulations if it wishes to do so but insists that it must have no treaty obligation to adhere to EU rules.
Theresa May is taking senior ministers on an eight-hour “away day” at the end of this month, during which she hopes they will agree on a common approach to the next phase of Brexit talks with the EU. A likely compromise would call for regulation of some elements of the economy to be fully aligned with the EU, while other sectors shadow EU regulations and some ignore them altogether.
There is, however, no appetite for such a proposal in Brussels, where the mood towards Britain has darkened in recent weeks amid disagreements over the terms of a transition arrangement. The atmosphere is about to get worse, as Michel Barnier prepares to publish a draft legal text based on the deal agreed in December, which includes a guarantee that there will be no hard border in Ireland.
Could Britain Hold a Second Referendum?
“It would take quite a political storm to create an opportunity for another referendum,” Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the London School of Economics, told the New York Times. “Both main parties are on record as opposing it.”
Also worth noting: It is not even totally clear that Britain could remain in the E.U., even with a second vote. After all, the country invoked Article 50, launching the exit process. No other country has ever done that, and it is not clear that the process could be halted at this point.
Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer and supporter of a second referendum, told the New York Times that all 27 other members of the E.U. would have to agree that Britain could revoke its Article 50 invocation before that could move forward. Any country could block Britain's return or — more likely — impose some kind of unacceptable condition. If that happened, Britain would have to make its case to the European Court of Justice.
EU Losing Patience
On Friday, the time had finally come: The British government was to present its plan for the relationship with the European Union after the Brexit in Brussels. But the presentation failed. The British had had deadline problems, said EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
This made it clear that there was little progress, let alone a breakthrough, despite the growing pressure of time during the week's negotiations. There is only one appreciable development in sound: it gets rougher.
The dispute is currently igniting the design of the transition phase after Brexit. According to the will of the other EU countries, the United Kingdom should lose its co-determination rights on 29 March 2019, but it should continue to enjoy all the benefits of the customs union and the common internal market by the end of 2020 - and, of course, abide by its rules.
On the latter point, however, the British Government has its own ideas. Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, wants to put EU citizens who enter the country during the transitional period worse off than those who lived in the country before Brexit. The EU, Barnier left no doubt, does not want to accept that. The British also demand the right to oppose rules and laws that come into effect during the transition period. They also do not want to submit to the case law of the European Court of Justice.
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