Rethinking Europe

Brexit: Could Boris Do What Theresa Could Not?

While he did not endear himself to his continental colleagues during his stint as foreign minister, Boris Johnson’s flexibility could turn into an advantage.

Credit: BackBoris2012 Campaign Team www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • While he did not endear himself to his continental colleagues during his stint as foreign minister, Boris Johnson’s flexibility could turn into an advantage.
  • If Boris Johnson achieves his ambition to become Prime Minister, he may have an interest to limit the Brexit damage to the UK.
  • The EU remains ready to adjust the declaration on future relations if the UK drops some of its red lines.

The leading contender to succeed Theresa May, Boris Johnson, is seen on the continent as a talented self-promoter with a limited grasp of the European facts and little ideological baggage.

After all, Boris Johnson reportedly made up his mind whether or not to back Brexit only on the evening he had to publish a newspaper column about his choice.

While he did not endear himself to his continental colleagues during his stint as foreign minister, his flexibility could turn into an advantage.

If and when Boris Johnson has achieved his ambition to move into 10 Downing Street, he may have an interest to limit the Brexit damage to the UK. With his credibility as a Brexiteer, he may even achieve what May, for lack of that credibility, did not.

Boris the deal maker?

I would not rule out that Boris Johnson may convince more of his Conservative colleagues in parliament to pass the Withdrawal Agreement as the basis for talks about UK-EU future relations. Johnson might even do a deal with Labour.

After all, if he is in office, Labour would not need to insist on a “Boris lock,” that is on an elusive safeguard against the risk that a May successor may not abide by a deal she might have struck with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

From the EU27 angle, a genuine hardline Brexiteer without the flexibility ascribed to Boris Johnson could be a worse outcome.

May’s red lines

Unlike the Withdrawal Agreement, the political declaration on future relations largely reflects the red lines (“no customs union, stop to free movement of labour”) which May herself had drawn.

As before, the EU remains ready to adjust the declaration on future relations if the UK drops some of its red lines.

If May had agreed a permanent customs union deal with Labour, the EU would have gone along with it. If a new UK prime minister wants to distance her- or himself from May’s deal by moving closer to a customs union or even a Norway-style arrangement that would be fine for the EU.

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About Holger Schmieding

Holger Schmieding is chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. [United Kingdom] Follow him @Berenberg_Econ

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