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Sleaze shambles holds warning for Boris Johnson's next Brexit battle
Johnson's rapid retreat (in the Owen Paterson affair)  reminds his troops that for all the Churchillian rhetoric, he is often the first one heading for the hills when he deems the fight no longer worth his while. This is not always a weakness. Johnson feels no obligation to defend a losing position.      

There is much in the current row (over the Protocol) that suits his style. For most of the year, he brandished the threat to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, which allows a side to suspend part of the agreement if it is causing serious "social or economic damage". What should be an escape valve for specific problems is seen by Johnson as a lever to try to rewrite the deal. This moment is moving closer and has provoked bellicose retaliatory threats from the EU, though Frost has said the UK "is not there yet". But if and when Johnson triggers the process, he can start small and ratchet up. The mechanisms allow for delays before each EU response, which means he can back away if the price, be it targeted retaliatory tariffs or more disruptive checks at Calais, seems too high. Even the nuclear option floated by Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney -- of terminating the UK/EU trade deal -- requires a year's notice, giving Johnson time, though at the price of economic uncertainty.    

the second lesson is that Johnson will retreat when outgunned. The history of his Brexit negotiations is of talking tough and then giving in. The fight over the protocol highlights just how thoroughly he caved in when he signed it in 2019. A year later he accepted a trade agreement that secured few advantages. For all his fighting talk of walking away with no deal, Johnson never did. Since his core demands go beyond what the EU is prepared to grant, it is a reasonable bet that the same will be true again.

His allies may cheer a premier battling Brussels but they and the media could quickly turn in the face of economic damage and empty shelves. This means his own cheerleaders need to give him the room to retreat when he is ready.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 12th, 2021 at 08:44:37 PM EST

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