Want to bet? Boris Johnson does. The new Prime Minister and his fellow Brexit hardliners succeeded in pushing out Theresa May over her inability to extricate the UK from the EU. In his first speech to Parliament, her successor warned the EU that they need to come up with a better deal than the May-negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, or else:
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on the European Union to “rethink” its refusal to renegotiate the Brexit deal, as he pledged to throw all his energy into making sure Britain leaves the bloc on time on Oct. 31.
Addressing a rowdy session of Parliament for the first time since becoming prime minister, Johnson pledged Thursday to take a new approach. Rejecting the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated by his fellow Conservative predecessor, Theresa May, he insisted that while he wanted a deal, the country was better prepared than widely believed to leave the bloc without one.
“I hope that the EU will be equally ready and that they will rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said. “If they do not, we will, of course, have to leave — the U.K. — without an agreement.”
The first thing that has to go, Johnson demanded, was the “backstop” to prevent a hard border in Ireland:
“A time limit is not enough,” Johnson said. “If an agreement is to be reached, it must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop.
“For our part, we are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative with provisions to ensure that the Irish border issues are dealt with where they should always have been: in the negotiations on the future agreement between the UK and the EU.”
There’s only one trouble with that — the existing Good Friday Agreement that has been in force for more than twenty years. It deconstructed the hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, including trade checkpoints. The common EU membership of both nations made that much easier to accomplish, but an EU withdrawal by the UK means some sort of import/export checkpoint system must be put in place somewhere.
Brexiters have refused to put trade controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, arguing (correctly) that it would allow the EU to interfere in sovereign matters. The only alternative, though, is a hard border in Ireland unless someone comes up with an idea to replace it with trade controls that don’t require inspections and checkpoints. And despite three years of fulminating over how Brexit doesn’t mean a hard border, none of the Brexiters have come up with a workable solution to the conundrum. That’s why Johnson is still proposing to “negotiate” an “alternative” at this late date.
Johnson insists that he will proceed with the Article 50 withdrawal on Halloween no matter what, even if that means a hard Brexit and massive disruption. Scotland’s devolved government has a response to Johnson already. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that her government would prepare a new independence referendum to put in place in case of a hard Brexit:
“It is now – more than ever – essential that in Scotland we have an alternative option,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a letter to Johnson.
“The Scottish government will continue to make preparations to give people in Scotland the choice of becoming an independent country,” she said, adding that the Scottish parliament would consider framework legislation for a referendum after the summer recess.
Scotland voted strongly to remain in the EU, and for that matter Remain got a majority in Northern Ireland as well. With always-constant pressure for reunification in Ireland and ire over Tory policies in Scotland, the fallout from a Johnson-led hard Brexit might wind up leaving the UK without even a Great Britain any longer.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s still talking while I write this. Johnson’s in the middle of explaining why he’s so incredibly popular in Scotland to Parliament and, er, highly skeptical Scots MPs.