Brexit Update: New Prime Minster, same old problems?

Mid-summer is usually a time when things begin to quieten down for the UK parliament as politicians go off on summer recess until September.

However, with our new Prime Minister and cabinet, as well as the latest countdown to Brexit with talk of no deal an ever-increasing realistic outcome, I wouldn’t expect much down time.

It is now over one week since Boris Johnson was elected as leader of the Conservative party and became the new Prime Minister. One of his firsts acts as PM was a complete cabinet overhaul giving key cabinet roles to some leading Brexiteers. This is likely reflective of his pledge to come out of the EU on 31 October no matter what and it is seems that the UK is on an apparent course towards a no deal, with Michael Gove at the head of the no deal preparations. Johnson continues to insist that the backstop is dead and has said that he will not meeting with EU leaders until they change their position on the backstop.

However, not all Tory MPs are happy with this no deal trajectory with reports that some Conservative MPs, including former Chancellor Philip Hammond, are plotting with Labour on how to stop a no deal Brexit using the parliamentary process. The cross-party group are alleged to be forming a strategy to prevent a no deal, with options considered including amending Brexit related bills (i.e. Trade Bill, Immigration Bill etc.), a private members bill to seek a further extension in the absence of a deal and a vote of no confidence, put down by Labour, if it looks like a no deal is on the cards-this would require support of a number of Conservatives.

Whilst EU leaders have welcomed Boris to his new role and sent their polite regards, there still appears to be a united front, with lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier urging EU leaders to show solidarity and unity.

Notably, there was some frostiness of UK-Irish relations in the past week, with discontent at the length of time it had taken Johnson to reach out to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. However, after their phone call on Tuesday, it appears that there were further clashes over the backstop. It is reported that Varadkar emphasised the necessity of the backstop as a ‘consequence of decisions the UK government’ and highlighted the EU’s united front. Varadkar also restated the need for both governments to be fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement, the protection of peace process and the restoration of the NI institutions. The Irish government also continues to warn that a no-deal Brexit would cause significant damage to the Irish economy, reducing growth ad could cost 55,000 Irish jobs in the immediate aftermath.

It has also been reported that congressional leaders and diplomats in the US have warned future US-UK trade deal would almost certainly be blocked by US Congress if Brexit affects the Irish border and jeopardises the peace process here.

The Institute for Government has published a paper on preparing for a no deal, looking at what the Prime Minister will have to do in the next 100 days to prepare for a no deal, which they claim may include bringing in legislation to introduce direct rule in NI with immediate effect from 31 October if the NI Executive has not been restored.

What next?

Boris Johnson has stated that he is convinced that a new deal can be done with the EU which would avoid checks at the Irish border whilst continuing his rejection of the backstop. Either way, he has pledged to leave the EU by 31 October. The EU have remained steadfast in their assertion that they will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement or the backstop. At the same time, those MPs opposed to a no deal will continue to strategize a way to thwart a no deal in parliament. It is hard to see why the EU would grant another extension beyond 31 October in the absence of any viable ideas or plans forthcoming from the UK, all meanwhile domestic policy will continue to take a back seat and NI remains without a functioning government to deal with the possibility of a no deal Brexit and it’s potentially devastating consequences.

NICVA continues to campaign against a no deal and will join forces with our social partners, CBI NI, Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Ulster Farmers’ Union along with other members of NI civic society at an event this Friday to call for the prevention of a no deal Brexit.



The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.

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