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Analysis

Boris’ red lines risk future Tory meltdown on Brexit

by Luke Lythgoe | 02.10.2017

The Conservative Party are just about weathering Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit intervention. Theresa May has refused to be drawn on whether the foreign secretary is “unsackable”. Chancellor Philip Hammond downplayed his comments as a “rhetorical flourish”.

But Johnson’s four red lines, laid out in a pre-conference interview with The Sun, pose the serious risk of a Tory meltdown later in the Brexit process.

Take his insistence that the transition period should be two years and “not a second more”. May’s official position is that transition should be “around two years” while Hammond and business groups have urged something closer to three. The problem with insisting on a maximum of two years is that our economy would face another cliff edge if we hadn’t negotiated a new deal with the EU by then.

Johnson also refuses to accept any new EU and ECJ rulings having effect in Britain during the transition period. The first part of this red line – no new EU rules – will probably be problematic for the EU. May seems to appreciate this. That’s presumably why she refused to be drawn on whether the UK would be bound by new laws in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday.

The second part of this red line – no new ECJ rulings – could also be problematic, depending on what Johnson means by this. If he means no ECJ jurisdiction during the transition, that will be a no-no. It clashes with the EU’s negotiating mandate and a recent resolution from the European Parliament which insists on the “full jurisdiction” of the ECJ throughout the transition.

Since the EU doesn’t think Britain has made sufficient progress on the withdrawal deal to discuss the transition yet, these issues are unlikely to come to a boil until early next year.

Johnson’s final two red lines concern the end-game rather than the transition. He is saying there should be no payment for single market access and no shadowing of EU regulations after Brexit. The snag is that this would mean losing much of our access to a market that’s responsible for half our trade.

This flashpoint may come later than the issues to do with the transition. But it is also possible that the EU will want to talk about the end-game and the transition together. That would certainly be logical. If so, all the issues will come to a head at the same time some time next year.

There are three main scenarios of what will happen when the final battles inside the Cabinet are fought. If Johnson prevails, we will be heading for the hardest of Brexits without any transition deal. If May prevails and Johnson is sacked or resigns, the foreign secretary will continue his battles from the backbenches. The third scenario is that the prime minister resigns – unleashing a new bout of Tory civil war.

None of these outcomes is in the interests of the country. No wonder the British Chambers of Commerce is calling on the government to pull itself together. Unfortunately, there’s little chance of that.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Boris’ red lines risk future Tory meltdown on Brexit”

  • Johnson’s interests go no further than his own career prospects. I suspect he has joined the hard-liners because he thinks that is his best chance of getting the job he covets so much.

  • Some say we must respect the vote of the British people in the EU referendum………how can you respect a deception, a fraud or anything to do with Boris. The slogan on the red bus says it all…a bogus prospectus !

  • Look at the damage he did when he used his unemployment as London’s mayor to promote himself through the exit referendum. He wasn’t bothered about the truth or the consequences of his position then, why would he this time around?

    Bad news Boris should be locked up. We will discover that he is in a Le Carre type scenario in the pay of Russia. His goal will be the destruction of the UK and the collapse of the EU to the benefit of Putin’s world dominance.