In his first statement as new UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson repeated on 26 July that the UK shall leave the EU by 31 October, but that he is also prepared to renegotiate with the EU. However, he called the existing Withdrawal Agreement (WA) unacceptable. Especially the arrangements to the backstop in the agreement are intolerable, according to Johnson. He said: “A time limit is not enough. If an agreement is to be reached, it must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop.” Therefore, Johnson pleaded again for alternative agreements to the backstop compatible with the Good Friday Agreement. On 30 July Johnson even indicated he refuses to meet EU leaders unless they scrap the backstop despite the invitations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Emmanuel Macron.
As a reaction on Johnson’s wish to abolish backstop, Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister of Ireland, spoke on the phone with the new British Prime Minister. It was the first contact since Johnson became Prime Minister. Varadkar told him that “Alternative arrangements could replace the backstop in the future, but thus far satisfactory options have yet to be identified and demonstrated.” Varadkar invited Johnson to Dublin for talks on Brexit, but for the Taoiseach it is clear that the WA cannot be re-opened.
For the moment it still looks that Johnson’s main goal is to replace the Northern Ireland backstop in May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with “alternative arrangements” to take effect at the end of the transition period. But neither Ireland, nor the EU seems eager to do so which seems to increase a no-deal scenario on 31 October. However, Boris Johnson has contradicted this week his no-deal Brexit planning minister, Michael Gove, by claiming that the government is not working on the basis that a no-deal Brexit is the most likely outcome. Johnson’s sincerity will become clear in the coming weeks and months.
In any case, Johnson has pledged to speed up preparations for a no-deal departure. This is necessary, as a new report published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) made clear that neither the UK, nor the EU and the Member States are ready for a no-deal scenario. Preparations can have a material impact. Therefore, the CBI has compiled over 200 recommendations for reducing the harm of no deal. In addition, the report concluded that many no-deal mitigations rely on actions by and negotiations with the EU, which will hold all the political difficulties experienced in talks so far.
The UK Parliament went into recess this week until 3 September. Then the battle between Remain and Leave MPs is expected to intensify again with the 31 October deadline fast approaching. At the end of September, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party will both hold a conference where the parties could make important announcements.