With the next General Election now a long way off, this thread by The Columnist is suddenly disturbingly plausible and warns against complacency over Boris Johnson’s willingness to give in to EU demands.


First published in February 2020.

Why did the Johnson government shift from a ‘my deal or no-deal’ stance to accepting a border in the Irish Sea and agreeing in the Political Declaration to the principle of Level Playing Field provisions?

A prevailing explanation for the volte face is that Boris Johnson’s government never intended to risk no deal (i.e. it was alway a sort of bluff), and when the EU held to its position the UK capitulated.

A reason why this is important is that this narrative is frequently used to argue that the UK will largely accede to the EU’s current negotiating position (because that’s what it did before).

But what if this convenient story is not entirely correct or it is at least a misinterpretation of what happened.

Consider the following as an alternative explanation...

The pre-election Johnson government was comfortable with No-Deal. But, crucially, it recognised that No-Deal would materially damage its chances of winning the election that would surely come soon.

The strategic conundrum then was to find a deal agreeable to the EU which would be least binding on the UK (in terms of the divergence, etc. agenda) and would then allow the Johnson government to fight an ‘oven ready-let’s get it done’ election.

Then, arguably, there was a process of ruthless prioritisation. The unionist interests of Northern Ireland mattered much less than the ‘freedom’ of the rest of the UK.

And as for the post-Brexit application of the Northern Ireland/GB checks, that problem could be dealt with on another day, post-Brexit.

But then what about the Level Playing Field provisions in the Political Declaration? Well, they were / are (crucially) not legally binding. There would be plenty of time later to switch position.

In other words, who cares what’s in the Political Declaration?

Perhaps this explanation is right. Perhaps it isn’t. Then, why does it matter? Because there is at least a decent case that the UK government wanted to do a deal not because it was especially worried about no-deal per se but because it was concerned about the electoral impact of that outcome.

In which case, now the deal has helped deliver such a handsome electoral majority, why should the government worry much about a post-transition no-deal when it has four more years until another election.


Tweets posted on 7 February 2020 by @Sime0nStylites.



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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 7 February 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Number 10/©No10 Crown Copyright/Andrew Parsons. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the National Glass Centre, Sunderland on Brexit Day. Picture by Pippa Fowles. | 31 Jan 2020. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)



     

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