Expert View

EU won’t play Johnson’s Trump-like games

by Michael Emerson | 01.08.2019

(Brussels) The UK prime minister hopes the EU will crack now he’s spending £2.1 billion preparing for a no deal. But the EU will not be impressed.

All that can be seen from Brussels are temporary measures to try and ensure the flow of medicines and foods across the Channel, to alleviate the prospect of the M20 in Kent becoming a very long parking lot for heavy trucks, and to provide guidance notes for businesses to prepare for the renewed red tape at the border crossings. But this is just short-term technical stuff, that entirely misses out on what a no deal Brexit would really mean. 

The prime minister so far is heard shrugging it off with “some negatives to begin with”, but these will be sorted out, giving way to a “new golden age for global Britain” (to use his words). 

Those concerned with European affairs in the EU divide between those consider the idea of a no deal to be so crazy that it would never happen, and those who try to think through what it would mean. With the arrival of Boris Johnson at No 10 Downing Street, the second approach increasingly prevails, attached to the following kinds of likely consequences for the UK.  

Economic damage 

Apart from short-term logistic difficulties on which the government seems to be working, the main expected economic consequences are:

a. WTO tariff levels will be applied to UK exports to the EU, mostly around 5%, but 10% for automobiles, which will render UK production in this sector uncompetitive, and lead to plant closures. But also devastating 40-90% tariffs facing exports to the EU of sheep and cattle farmers.

b. European enterprises that include parts from the UK in their supply chains will switch away from the UK. Airbus has already warned of this, and there will be many others.

c. The UK as a location of choice in Europe for foreign direct investment in the manufacturing industry will be ended, in favour of many other attractive locations on the continent. 

d. There will be increasingly serious labour shortages in the UK, for example in the NHS, agriculture and construction, with mobile intra-EU migrants choosing other locations in the EU.  

e. There will be a further, already ongoing depreciation of the pound, reducing UK living standards.

f. There will be no transition period, like the two-year standstill foreseen in the withdrawal agreement. Impacts on the UK will therefore be brutal and immediate.

g. Scrapping the backstop will trigger Irish-sympathising US Congress to block a UK-US free trade deal.

h. In sum, there will be a long recession in the UK, cutting budget resources, leading to painful cuts in social services and on into the defence budget. 

It’s not just economics 

Apart from these economic hits, the expected roll-call of damage is:


The EU might sue the UK in international courts for £33 billion of damages with the scrapping of the withdrawal agreement, pending which there would be no negotiations over a free trade agreement or many sensible sector cooperation agreements. There has been no official and public position, or legal opinion published on this hypothesis, but the thought is in circulation. Failure to ratify the withdrawal agreement would itself of course not be illegal, but the damages inflicted by a no deal withdrawal would still be there. 

Broken aspirations of young Brits

Young Europeans take for granted their rights to travel, study, work, and live anywhere in Europe. Observers of the UK scene see that British teenagers and university students are appalled at being deprived of these rights. However bright young Brits have easy access to the global anglo-sphere, and one can expect a resulting brain drain emigration to set in.

Undermining the Good Friday agreement

A no deal would require physical frontier posts to be established at the Northern Irish border. These could become a sitting target for renewed sectarian violence. The EU is amazed at finding itself now apparently valuing peace in Northern Ireland more than the British government. The “backstop” is a mechanism to protect the peace, not a trap for the British as some in London suggest.

Damage for “Brand UK”

The UK has benefitted from enviable respect worldwide as a place of common sense, governmental competence, a sound legal order and trustworthiness. This will be shattered, in favour of an alternative image that has long been lurking in the background, that of “perfidious Albion”. The UK’s continued occupation of one of the five permanent seats at the UN Security Council, compared to the claims of Germany, Japan and Brazil, will come under increasing attack, with no support or sympathy to be expected from the rest of Europe on this account. 

Risk of disintegration of the UK itself

The warnings are already there. Support for a second Scottish independence referendum will grow with a no deal. Support for the reunification of Ireland will also grow as a no deal Brexit leads to renewed border controls. The EU is amazed at how Johnson’s London can be so cavalier in its attitude towards Scotland and Northern Ireland, after a year in which Spain experienced a real crisis over the secessionist demands of Catalonia.  

This list of disastrous consequences is so impressive, that even if only half of them happen, the view is that the prime minister has to be bluffing, since he is neither stupid nor uninformed. Both Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans – the European Commission’s president and his deputy – have said in public that Johnson is playing a game. He seems to be trying a Trump-like tactic, to walk away from the deal to get the other side to crack, but without the power of the US behind him. 

The EU can see that a majority in Parliament may well prevent him from doing a no deal. The calculation of the prime minister seems then to be willingly forced to hold a general election, which he denies, but no one in London or Brussels believes him. The EU will not play his games.

8 Responses to “EU won’t play Johnson’s Trump-like games”

  • WOW! £2.1 Billion!
    That’s nearly 0.25% of UK government spend! You can buy a big supercharger for that. But it wouldn’t be delivered by Halloween, (and probably made in Germany).
    WOW…….that’ll frighten Brussels anyway.
    Have good weekend chaps….maybe good news from Wales tomorrow.

  • With luck, Johnson’s majority will be down to 1 by the end of the day. And there are a few more candidates for deselection and worse in the pipeline so it seems likely that he will be running a minority government. I cannot see…but perhaps my vision is blurred…how he could possibly progress with his so-called mandate when he has only a minority government. In reenacting WWII spirit he is more taking on the part of the enemy than of Churchill.
    And meanwhile, Labour is silent……just when they are needed. They really are a disgrace and they cannot be isolated from this fiasco if they sit on their thumbs in the hope it will be alright.
    Ignoring Labour for now…I hope the silence from the rest indicates deep movements to bring together a real group who can fight this catastrophe from within. Or do we all just sit here and watch this slow-motion train crash, steered by the clinically insane?

  • The arrogance of this government has been ramped up to new levels of complacency. The Secretary to the Treasury has been telling the world that they are in control and there is nothing to fear (although, of course, they are aiming to get a deal). They are smug confidence tricksters who, once again, are deceiving the nation. Notice how they all use the same phrases such as ‘anti-democratic’ backstop at every opportunity. These tactics of ‘ say it simple, say it often’ were employed in the 1930s to ram home unsavoury and untrue messages.
    Gove has said the government will spend £500,000 to buy slaughtered meat from British farmers after a no deal exit. The guy from the Treasury would not confirm this which goes to show they are the masters of deceit. We are heading for a catastrophe.

  • And while this impending disaster is gathering momentum, Parliament is in recess. What has happened to our country ?

  • You missed the hard border between England and Scotland in case of a crash out. Scotland will in that case immediately look for re-entry into the EU, which will entail the necessity of a hard border with privateering England. In a way a very interesting proposition. Anyway, none of the mentioned issues in the article are very hard to see for those with a modicum of reading ability and some unused brain matter, which automatically makes it look like that those in favour of Brexit, especially the crash out type, are missing out on these commodities. Ditching political correctness as per populist politics makes it entirely justifiable to just mention this painful truth.

  • There’s one point I’d like to highlight from Michael Emerson’s article:

    “ECONOMIC DAMAGE: g. Scrapping the backstop will trigger Irish-sympathising US Congress to block a UK-US free trade deal.”
    Indeed there was a Guardian article (again) on this very point yesterday (31.07.2019), headed:
    “We’ll block trade deal if Brexit imperils open Irish border, say US politicians – Johnson-Trump plan could fall foul of Congress if Good Friday agreement is threatened”

    This is a very stark reminder that Toxic Bojo and his cabinet are in for a rude awakening from the Americans, on “dumping” the “Irish Backstop”. Thankfully, it’s not just the Europeans providing support to Ireland.

    This means that for all the Brexiters claims of easy and speedy trade deals with the USA, once the UK has left the EU, this is just not going to happen.
    It happens to be one of the Brexiteers central claims in mitigating the collapse in trade with EU countries! InFacts should have written a big article on this very point alone.

    For God’s sake “In Facts”, why haven’t you highlighted the above? You’re in the game of presenting big stories, and in my opinion the above is a very big story!


  • As a Northern Irishman, it was absolutely evident to me, when the referendum was announced, that the border in Ireland would be a major issue, firstly with regard to the Peace accord, but also with the impossibility of trading goods from and to the Single Market and a “Third Country” as the UK will become, without border controls on goods. The Common travel area has worked effectively since the 1920s, and control of mobility of persons on the Border is not a problem as long as both countries maintain their commitments, which it seems they are ready to do. But even that relief does not exist at either end of the Channel tunnel, sea and airports to continental Europe. So costly Customs infrastructure, and staff (not yet in place in the numbers needed, with appropriate training) and the same for Immigration.