LONDON — Boris Johnsons victory puts Brexit on track — but this is just the beginning.
After winning a strong majority in the December 12 general election, Johnson returns as prime minister with the political capital to pull the U.K. out of the European Union in early 2020 and move onto negotiations about Britains future relationship with the bloc.
In his victory speech, Johnson declared the result puts the debate on a second Brexit referendum to bed.
“This election means that getting Brexit done is now the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people. And this this election I think we put an end to all those little miserable threats of a second referendum,” he said.
Having insisted all Tory candidates backed the Brexit agreement he struck with Brussels in October, the prime minister can push his deal through the U.K. parliament without further delay.
Brussels said Friday it was ready to start the next phase of negotiations.
“Parliament as a whole will be a lot more straightforward to deal with,” said a senior adviser to Johnson. “In terms of the immediate term after the general election, delivering the legislation for Brexit should be a very straightforward process in terms of the Withdrawal Agreement getting through the House, purely because we will be able to hold that majority together in a way that was not possible before as all candidates have endorsed the deal.”
The House of Commons is expected to vote on the deal again before Christmas. The House of Lords will then consider the plan and, once it is ratified by the U.K. parliament, the European Parliament would then vote on the deal. This process is expected to pass smoothly, enabling Johnson to stick to the current scheduled exit date of January 31, 2020.
Attention will quickly turn to the transition phase, which keeps the U.K. trading with the EU on its existing terms until the end of December 2020. During this transition, Johnson will need to decide what kind of post-Brexit relationship he wants with the EU, spanning everything from trade to security, defense, fishing, data protection and science.
If he cant strike a trade deal during this transition phase, the U.K. would leave the EU with no deal and would trade with its nearest neighbor on World Trade Organization terms.
In their 2019 manifesto, the Tories promised not to extend the Brexit transition period, though with such a large majority and having broken plenty of promises in the past, Johnson could still seek more time.
Brussels, for its part, said Friday it was ready to start the next phase of negotiations. Speaking at an EU leaders summit in Brussels shortly after an exit poll had suggested a strong majority for the Conservative Party, European Council President Charles Michel said EU leaders were “ready for the next steps.”
“We are ready for the next steps. We will see if it is possible for the British parliament to accept the Withdrawal Agreement, and to take a decision,” he said. “And if it is the case, we are ready for the next steps. We have a way of working in order to guarantee the unity of the European countries, to guarantee the transparency and to try to keep a close cooperation with the United Kingdom.”
EU27 leaders will discuss Brexit later Friday at the end of their summit in Brussels.
Clock starts ticking again
“The day after the Withdrawal Agreement goes through parliament then the problems start all over,” said Richard Whitman, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent. “By setting this tight deadline to negotiate the future relationship without clearly articulating all aspects of that relationship and planning to end the transition so early, what the British government has already done is creating the script for the opposition in parliament.”
The first step for Johnsons government is to set the U.K.s priorities for this second round of negotiations.
During the first phase of the Brexit negotiations, the EU set the agenda and decided the order in which topics would be addressed. This was accepted by former Prime Minister Theresa May, at the price of losing negotiating power, and was harshly criticized by her hard-line Brexiteer colleagues.
This time, it would be in the U.K.s interest for the talks on the different elements of the future relationship to be negotiated in parallel, since this would allow for trade-offs between issues and better time management given the pressure of the December 2020 deadline.
The British government is likely to continue to prepare for a potential cliff-edge in December 2020.
Johnson has not yet indicated how he might proceed in this regard, but diplomats from EU member states agree that the December 2020 deadline is unrealistic for both parties to reach a comprehensive deal on their future relationship. They expect the British prime minister to break his manifesto pledge and request an extension to the transition at some point in the summer.
It is possible, however, that Johnson pursues a more limited deal, something German officials have indicated might be possible.
Given the magnitude of the future relationship negotiations, some EU leaders would like the transition to last as long as might be needed to reach a comprehensive deal on the future relationship, rather than getting it done quickly. Thus they are more inclined towards giving the U.K. a longer extension than those granted during the Brexit deal talks — of up to two or three years.
During the transition period, a joint U.K.-EU committee will oversee the implementation of the Brexit deal and judge whether both parties are living up to their commitments. Regardless of the evolution of the future relationship talks, the transition itself might open up opportunities for further clashes between London and Brussels.
“The transition is an untried experiment for the EU,” said Whitman. “And we are still yet to see how that joint committee is going to work. The longer the transition, the higher the likelihood that something is going to emerge that is going to be tricky. But the shorter the transition, the more difficult it is to get a deal [on the future relationship]. It is a sort of a catch-22 situation.”
The next cliff-edge
In parallel, the British government is likely to continue to prepare for a potential cliff-edge in December 2020.
This scenario terrifies U.K. businesses, which complain they have wasted billions in preparing for a no-deal situation three times during the last two years. Johnson will have to decide at what point his government starts communicating to British industry about any potential changes that might affect them.
Conservative officials expect a government reshuffle shortly, to prepare Whitehall for the second phase of the negotiations.
John Foster, director of campaigns at the CBI trade body, said a Conservative majority should enable a “smooth and orderly withdrawal,” but hopes the second phase of the negotiations yields a U.K.-EU trade deal that keeps Britain aligned with Brussels on regulations and delivers for the U.K. service industries.
“We would want to work with the government in a genuine constructive partnership on how we can get the right business architecture in place to make sure the second phase is guided by the economic evidence provided by business,” he said. “The focus needs to be on getting the right outcome for our economy, to ensure that [any free-trade agreement] is a deal that has alignment on the rules [with the EU] in order to facilitate frictionless trade and delivers for our world-leading service industries. At the moment, the governments political declaration is light on services, and that is where the U.K. has so much to offer.”
Johnson will also have to consider whether the structure of the BRead More – Source