Brexit: What after the prorogation?

On 16 September, Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker met for the first time in person since Johnson became Prime Minister. Both parties saw the meeting as an opportunity to take stock of the negotiations, but the Commission’s statement afterwards concluded that no concrete proposals emerged from the discussion. On the same day, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, called Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit a nightmare at a press conference (which Johnson left early due to anti-Brexit protestors ruining it). Bettel also said the British government had not made any serious proposals for a new deal. Therefore Jean-Claude Juncker also repeated on 18 September, during the European parliament plenary session in Strasbourg, that a no-deal scenario is still very plausible.

However, a deal (or an extension of Article 50) seems necessary as the British government has been accused of minimalizing the possible disruption at ports in a no-deal scenario. Documents published last week about Operation Yellowhammer, the official plan to handle a no-deal scenario, suggested that there would be a low risk for ports outside Kent, a port that has a lot of EU traffic. But new documents show that this is only because tens of thousands of vehicles would be rejected because they would be non-compliant, meaning that the drivers would not have the correct permits or the correct papers filled in, and would be turned away. Also, the facilitation of trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic still needs some time. Johnson is setting out plans for an all-Ireland economic relationship which must replace the Irish backstop. With this plan, Northern Ireland would effectively become a special economic zone inside both the UK and the EU. There would still be a border and everything that is not covered by the all-island regime would be subject to checks.

But, as Juncker stated, there is also a very big chance that the UK will leave the European Union without a deal. Two weeks ago, UK MPs passed a law which requires Boris Johnson to seek an extension of Article 50 if Johnson fails to secure a Brexit deal with the EU by 19 October (dubbed the Benn Act). There is no guarantee that Johnson will do that. However, another concern now is that even if Johnson agrees with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with the EU and the deal successfully passes through Parliament, there could not be sufficient time to pass through Parliament a separate act implementing the WA (a complex piece of legislation) – or it could be blocked by MPs – before 31 October. Now, once the WA is agreed, the Benn Act does not come into force because it does not take into account the separate act to implement the WA, so the result is a no-deal Brexit. Therefore, it is in the interest of Labour and Tory rebel MPs not to agree to the WA before the extension has been secured. An extension should be obligatory, whether there is a deal or not.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, is currently hearing the case over Johnson’s decision to temporarily shut down the UK Parliament. Scotland’s highest court ruled last week that the suspension was indeed unlawful, but the High Court in England had ruled earlier the opposite way. Therefore, the UK Supreme Court is now discussing if this case is justiciable and, if so, whether the prorogation was lawful. After two days of hearing arguments on both sides, also former Tory prime minister John Major spoke on the final day in court to doubt Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament. It is not yet known when the judges will deliver their verdict, but it is expected for next week.

In addition, on 18 September, a clear majority of the Members of the European Parliament voted for a resolution supporting the UK being given a Brexit deadline extension should it request one. The vote itself is largely symbolic because the European Parliament wants to show that it cannot be ignored. However, the EP will reject a deal that does not include a backstop. This is significant because the EP will need to vote through the final Brexit deal.

Brexit: The Blame Game

At the moment, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is travelling through Europe. Johnson already met with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin where he tried to renegotiate the Irish border backstop. However, Merkel stated that she was open for a dialogue and practical solutions for the Irish border, but she does not want to reopen the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement. Today, Johnson is traveling to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron and on Saturday he will attend the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.

Next to his European tour, Boris Johnson also sent a request to the European Council President, Donald Tusk, asking whether the EU is prepared to consider a solution for the Irish border problem and, consequently, wants to reopen the negotiations with the EU. In his letter to Tusk, Johnson made it clear that it is crucial the Irish backstop be removed from the current Brexit deal. Johnson proposed to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements, such as technological solutions, and promised not to put infrastructure, checks or controls in place at the border, but did not provide concrete details. Tusk reacted by saying that he was not in favor of removing the Irish backstop as it is still the only assurance to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Tusk judged the alternatives of Johnson as unrealistic and misleading. Therefore, the blame game, of who ultimately will trigger a no-deal Brexit, seems to be accelerating.

As the negotiations between the UK and the European Union clearly do not seem to take off, London wants to show that they are serious about leaving. On 18 August, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay signed into law legislation to repeal the Act of Parliament which defined Britain’s EU membership in 1972. Barclay stated after signing: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back, we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances.” The repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 will take effect when Britain formally leaves the EU on 31 October. In addition, on 20 August the UK Government announced that, as of 1 September, UK officials will only attend EU meetings if they could affect national interests, e.g. security.

However, the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal are even worse than expected. A leaked government report, called Operation Yellowhammer, outlined the scenario of what would happen after 31 October if a no-deal Brexit were to happen. The report makes clear that businesses in the UK are not at all ready for such a scenario. A no-deal Brexit would especially have severe consequences for the transport sector. 50% – 85% of lorries travelling across the Channel may not be ready for French customs and at least three months of disruption to the short Channel crossings are expected. In addition, parts of the food supply chain, including the availability of fresh foods as well as ingredients and packaging, could also be impacted, leading to reduced choice and price rises.

In the meantime, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is trying to find allies in the House of Commons  to form a temporary government to secure an extension of the current Brexit deadline. However, Liberal Democrats leader, Jo Swinson, criticized the plan, saying that Corbyn is not the right person to build a temporary majority. In addition, Corbyn also said that he wanted to organize elections in which Labour would campaign for a second referendum with the option to stay in the European Union. Elections are likely as the majority of the current government shrank to only one seat. The political parties are also increasingly running political ads on Facebook, especially the Brexit Party, although the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson Facebook campaigns combined dominate the social media campaign.