Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Brexit: Transition in a time of pandemic

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

15th April 2020

Michel Barnier and David Frost are due to resume today (15th April) their negotiations interrupted by the Coronavirus. If Brexit were a project built on rational economic or political foundations, the British government would by now have sought an extension of the transition period for the UK’s exit from the European Union. The deadline of 31st December 2020 was always an ambitious one for agreeing even the general outlines of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The economic and political disruption caused throughout Europe by the Coronavirus pandemic has now turned the retention of this disruptive deadline into an act of wanton self-harm for the UK.  No rational argument has ever been put forward by the government for maintaining this deadline, beyond the mantric repetition by its spokesmen of ministers’ refusal to countenance delay.  The transition period, we are told, will end on 31st December 2020 because that is the date on which the British government insists it will end.

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Brexit Futures – Preparing to change the game

by Peter Cook
Business and organisation consultant; Author of “Let’s Talk about Brex..it

28th February 2020

Brexit will unravel of its own contradictions.  I believe this will be sooner rather than later.  Brexit’s implosion will come from either what I call external socio-economic, political, environmental shocks or “internal combustion”, due to the underlying inherent instability of the Tory party and the self-destructive nature of Brexit, which has already claimed two Prime Ministers and cost £66 000 000 000 in waste. 

Short-term Brexit futures

We are already seeing and will undoubtedly see a veritable tsunami of Brexit consequences in the next 11 months. For example:

  • Continuing business exits and relocation decisions.  As I write, Axminster Carpets have gone to the wall citing Brexit as a major factor.  BMW have indicated no new investment in the Mini, an hors d’oeuvre from the automobile industry following the UK’s descent into an impoverished 3rd country.  We await decisions from pharmaceutical companies regarding Britain’s importance for drug registrations, agriculture and many other sectors that will either be severely disadvantaged by Brexit or those that have the wherewithal to reposition their centre of gravity.  Ryanair have already done this in a pro-active move that others will inevitably follow now that it has been confirmed that full customs checks will be a feature of Brexit Britain.
  • Key promises broken.  We have already had the soft hint dropped that the Government will continue its policy on austerity with plans to cut public services by 5%, despite Theresa May’s claim that we were out of austerity.
  • Dominic Cummings is about to take Occam’s Razor to Central Government.  This will undoubtedly unsettle career civil servants, who are now asked to be accountable to a single political master rather than acting impartially.  This fundamental change to the psychological contract will have consequences for retention, morale and performance.  This is also a change in the democratic “contract” between the people and Parliament. 
  • Recession.  Dr Andrew Sentance is an eminent economist amongst many who have predicted that a recession remains a possibility in the short term.  It is certainly evident on the high streets in terms of restricted money supply for all but essentials.  Some lifestyle retail outlets on high streets are reporting reductions in turnover of up to 50% since 2019 with a number having gone to the wall. 
  • Public services at breaking point.  The NHS has already declared itself as having significant problems delivering services and we will see further cuts in local Government services as Johnson’s Government attempts to talk up the building of bridges to Ireland etc. whilst squeezing the public purse to pay for the sunny uplands of Brexit.
  • Food shortages, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, due to chaos and delays in border checks.  Michael Gove recently confirmed that border checks would be a part of Brexit despite the Government denying it on many previous occasions
  • The same issues will apply to the supply of medicines to our NHS.  This will selectively affect vulnerable people on complex cocktails of drugs and those with “orphan” conditions and using unlicensed medicines.  It is not scaremongering to suggest that a number of unnecessary deaths will occur from Brexit.
  • Resurgence of “hardy perennial” Brexit problems e.g. Ireland, Gibraltar, immigration, fish, US food standards, Trump vs EU etc.  At the time of writing, it appears that Johnson is willing to throw the fisherman under a trawler in order to strike more important deals on financial services.  All of these problems are what academics call “wicked problems” in so far that they are inherently complex, volatile, connected and ambiguous in nature.  They have so far been put on a “Brexit carousel” in the withdrawal agreement negotiations.  For example, as soon as Ireland shows itself to be inherently difficult, Johnson’s government advisers simply gaslight the situation with another item from the carousel e.g. fish.  The fish and chlorinated chickens are about to come home to roost.  It is really just a question as to when this happens and at what levels of concentration that will influence a change in public opinion about Brexit.

Mid-term Brexit futures

I have taken as the working assumption that Johnson’s Government are incrementally lulling or even numbing the population into surrender via “Brexit apathy” towards the acceptance of no-deal Brexit, using sweeteners such as bridges, HS2 and other distractions.  The latest euphemism in the mix is the so-called “Australian deal”.  This, of course, is “No Deal with Vegemite”.  The public at large have so far been fooled by these catchy slogans, but it remains uncertain as to how much longer this will prevail.  Mitigating factors could be real changes in the everyday life / feelings of optimism that Johnson has peddled alongside the emergence of a credible opposition.  The Government PR machine are also attempting to deflect public attention by replacing Brexit apathy with headline-grabbing projects as HS2, bridges over troubled water and buses.  The public are thrown “bones of contention” to occupy their minds, while Johnson and Co focus on “rich pieces of meat”, which the public will not notice.

In the mid-term, and assuming the overall direction of travel is towards No Deal on 31.12.20 we may then see the catastrophic failure of the UK plc.  Some vital signs or gamechangers may include:

  • A further drop in the pound of anything between 5 and 15% with impact on prices and a probable self-imposed deep recession comparable or even greater than that of 2008.
  • Gridlock on Britain’s main arteries to the ports with contagion in surrounding villages and impact on working parents whose children will not be able to reach school.
  • Pension losses for UK people living in the EU and consequent squeezes on the triple lock for UK pensioners
  • Real food shortages beyond levels considered inconvenient.
  • Significant delays at borders for travellers.
  • Carpet bagging by health insurance companies charging for private health replacements for EHIC as we move out of the EU frying pan, into Trump’s fire.

and so on …

It will be the seemingly trivial things that will act as culture carriers through The Sun / Express / Mail etc.  However much they bleat about the causes of the above being the “evil EU”, experience is reality for the stereotypical Brexiteer (if that exists) and they will likely not seek answers but look for the easiest person / people to blame.  Opponents of Brexit need to ensure that this is Johnson and the Tories / Brexit party.

At this point, the UK may become brutal or ugly for a while, but there will be nothing like the “hate of the people” to change Government policy on Brexit.  Given the actual numbers of leave voters that have come out to Remain marches and on “Brexit Day” 31.01.20, the notion of widespread civil unrest is vastly exaggerated by the Government as a device to silence Remainers.  We are also lucky in so far as much of the “angry demographic” are of an age where they are unable or unwilling to “take back control” of their country by violent means.

Depending on when this happens, a number of scenarios are feasible.  All would lead to a humiliating defeat of the Government and the bursting of the “Brexit fantasy bubble”.  It will however no longer be as simple as sending an apology e-mail and a request to rejoin.  Rejoining will at the very least require a purging of the “culture carriers” of the former regime and a levelling down of the hubris that has characterised the “English Revolution”.

This will be a very bumpy ride, but I predict we will end up as a Better Britain in a Better Europe for a Better World.  Populism’s promises will lay in tatters alongside the key protagonists that pimped them out to a pliable population.

Appeasing Brexiteers

by Dr Andrew Black
Senior Research Fellow at Global Policy Institute; Senior Research Fellow, Brunel Business School

26th February 2020

“A week is a long time in politics” according to Harold Wilson, the first Labour Party prime minister to break 13 years of Conservative party rule. A year is an even longer time, and a very great deal can happen during that time, particularly to governments led by the Conservative Party. Conservative majorities are far from being a guarantee of stability, and even less of a guarantee for success.

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Brexit: The British government starts to recognise reality

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

14th February 2020

Michael Gove’s acknowledgement that trade between the UK and the EU after 1st January 2021 will be far from frictionless is a watershed in the Brexit process. The claim that Brexit would not significantly impinge upon British trade with the European Union was central to the 2016 Leave campaign. So central indeed that government ministers spent the three years thereafter repeating this dishonest assurance in the face of ever-mounting evidence to the contrary.

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Leaving one Union, dividing another: The Irish border, the exit agreement and its implications

by Dr Andrew Blick
Reader in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

22nd January 2020

In February 2018, when serving as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson was reported telling journalists that ‘the particular problems around the Irish border are being used to drive the whole Brexit argument and effectively to try to frustrate Brexit’. The following year, he rose to the Conservative leadership and office of Prime Minister. In bidding for this role, a central part of the Johnson campaign was his claim that he could overcome the ‘Irish border’ obstacle to UK departure from the EU, without the need for difficult concessions or compromise on the part of the UK. The course of events that followed, and the arrangement eventually arrived at to enable Brexit, suggest that there was more substance to ‘problems around the Irish border’ than his earlier assertion allowed. Indeed (and given the exclusion of the option of revocation of Brexit) there was no solution entirely satisfactory to any of the parties on offer, though the greatest difficulties were always likely to befall the UK. An issue that Johnson previously sought to dismiss may yet cause substantial difficulties for him and his government, as well as the UK and wider world.

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The Brexit Election: Not all outcomes are equally bad

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

26th November 2019

Jeremy Corbyn has rarely in recent decades feared political controversy. On issues such as Ireland, the Middle East, NATO, income redistribution and renationalisation, he has advocated with candour and persistence views that have been unattractive, even shocking to many electors. Many of his supporters thereby hail him as a “conviction politician,” contrasting him favourably with his New Labour predecessors, tainted as they were by compromise and equivocation in the search for electoral advantage.

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Boris Johnson: Riding towards a place with no name

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

18th October 2019

This article was first published on Eurobabble.

Editor’s note: As foreshadowed in this article, the House of Commons
decided on 19th October to defer more detailed discussion of the
Withdrawal Act until the following week. The votes of the DUP were
crucial in securing this deferral.

Discussing the protracted negotiations to end the Vietnam war, the American diplomat John Negroponte once said that it had taken a long time to “force the North Vietnamese to accept the American surrender.” Things have moved more quickly in the Brexit negotiations, where it has taken barely a fortnight for Boris Johnson to surrender his supposed central objection to the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May, that of a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

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Johnson and Corbyn: Two peas from the same pod?

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

9th October 2019

As the deadline of 31st October approaches, it becomes daily clearer that a plausible path exists for the prevention of a “no deal” Brexit and indeed for the prevention of any kind of Brexit. The dangerous incompetence of Boris Johnson’s government on the European issue has finally persuaded many, probably most MPs of the need for a cross-Party government. Opinion has not yet crystallised in Parliament on the precise mandate for this new coalition, be it to hold a General Election or a People’s Vote. At present, the balance of opinion in Parliament leans towards a new General Election, followed by a People’s Vote. Once installed, however, a cross-Party government might well wish to reverse this temporal sequence. A General Election now would be highly unlikely to contribute anything to the resolution of the Brexit impasse. By the vagaries of the current British electoral system, it could even result in the election with a workable majority of an English nationalist government headed by Boris Johnson. Opinion polls consistently suggest on the other hand that a People’s Vote would lead to the UK’s remaining within the European Union. Faced with choice, a coalition government would not need to hesitate long before calling a People’s Vote, an option for which it would anyway probably be easier to obtain an extension from the European Council.

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Anti-Brexit forces have five weeks to decide on how to defeat ‘no deal’

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

30th July 2019

It was a disappointment to many that the Labour Party and those Conservative MPs opposed to a “no deal” Brexit did so little last week to oppose the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. The summer recess will, however, allow both Labour and moderate Conservative MPs a pause for reflection on their best way forward. If they can use this for profitable discussion, it will not be too late for them to mount an effective campaign of resistance when Parliament reassembles in early September. The foundations of this resistance must, however, be laid in the coming month. Every wasted day that passes makes more likely a catastrophic “no deal” Brexit on 31st October.

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