by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jul 5th, 2019 at 01:51:04 PM EST
The Johnson and Hunt show is winding its tedious way around the UK with the principals both promising to re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement and declaring the Irish backstop to be a dead letter. Well they would, wouldn't they, given the audiences they are speaking to. John Crace is particularly withering about their performance in Northern Ireland. Both are blithely ignoring the fact that the EU has consistently said the A.50 negotiations are finished and the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations won't be re-opened.
Normally a standard part of any negotiation process is to ensure everyone gets something out of it to "sell the deal" to their base, and help them look good or "save face" in the eyes of the media and amongst their peers.
The problems here are that:
- As far as the EU is concerned, all the compromises necessary to secure a deal have already been made, and they have no more concessions to make.
- If the deal were re-opened, some EU members might also want to resile from aspects of the deal and the EU consensus that it is the best (or only) deal possible could quickly fall apart. (Some may even suspect that that is the Tory intention, i.e. to divide and conquer). One of the most annoying aspects of the negotiation from a Tory perspective is that they have found it impossible to drive a wedge between and exploit differences between member states - contrary to their expectations.
- The fear within the EU is also that even if they did re-open the deal and make some concessions, that would never be enough to satisfy some Tories, and would simply encourage the UK to make more demands.
- Nobody trusts Johnson (or likes Hunt) or has any particular interest in seeing a Johnson government survive. Most are now reconciled to the probability of a no deal Brexit, consider they would be in an even stronger negotiation position afterwards, and have lost patience with the whole process.
- From an EU Commission perspective, the Brexit negotiation was one of the few successes of their period in office. Why unravel it now? The only concession they would be prepared to make, offered previously, is to reduce the backstop to NI only. That would require the UK government to ditch the DUP and take their chances on gaining some Labour back bench support or on a general election.
- Only the prospect of an imminent general election and/or second referendum would now induce the EU to further extend the A.50 negotiation process, and perhaps not even that. Macron et al want to move onto other business, and not allow the new Commission's period in office to be dominated by Brexit to the same extent.
I am with those who think Johnson is Machiavellian enough to withdraw the A.50 notification on the pretext that he needs more time to negotiate a better deal and doesn't want to have to beg for another A.50 extension as Theresa May had to do. While this will provoke well choreographed outrage amongst Farage et al, some may be secretly pleased that this gives them more time to make a mischief of themselves within the EU and maintain their political relevance within the UK. What would Farage have to crow about if Brexit was all done and dusted?
I have little doubt that the EU response to any A.50 notification withdrawal would be a blank refusal to engage in any new negotiations and to challenge the validity of the Notification withdrawal in the European Court of Justice if the Johnson government then tried to initiate new negotiations, especially if the UK then issued a new A.50 withdrawal notification. The UK would simply become a pariah within the EU - akin to the North Korea of Europe as described by Gordon Brown. I suspect many EU leaders would even refuse to meet or have bilateral discussions with the UK.
It's bad enough having a bad neighbour, but having them within your own house is the worst of all worlds. This has to end sometime, and the end can't come soon enough for most people in the UK and the EU. The show is almost over.