Boris Johnson’s bluster can’t hide Brexit woes – Ian Swanson

The likelihood of an agreement is diminishing by the day – and no deal with the EU could cost the UK billions, says Ian Swanson

Tuesday, 27th August 2019, 6:00 am
Boris Johnson gestures at the G7 summit. Picture: AP

THE Brexit battle will hot up again next week when MPs return to Westminster after their summer break. Boris Johnson – who had only a couple of days in office before the recess began – will come under pressure to explain what he plans to do as the clock ticks down to October 31, when he insists that Britain is leaving the EU, with or without a deal.

Despite the positive spin put on his meetings with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron last week, the message from Europe remains that the ball is squarely in the UK’s court – and the likelihood of concluding a deal seems to be diminishing by the day.

Mr Johnson previously described the chances of a no-deal Brexit as “a million to one” but now says avoiding such an outcome will be “touch and go”.

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A weekend poll found 67 per cent of voters think it is unlikely he will be able to negotiate a deal with the EU that parliament will approve.

And the country is still divided on the whole business of Brexit.

The same poll showed 35 per cent saying their preferred outcome would be a new referendum and people ­voting to remain in the EU after all. That compared with 26 per cent favouring no deal, 17 per cent who wanted Britain to leave with a deal which included remaining in the ­single market and the ­customs union and seven per cent who backed Theresa May’s deal. The likely ­consequences of a no-deal Brexit were spelled out 10 days ago in a leaked official government report, which, despite Michael Gove’s attempts to brand it “out of date”, turned out to have been produced earlier this month. They included shortages of food, fuel and medicine, chaos at the ports and a hard Irish border.

But Mr Johnson’s response is his usual vacuous bluster and an appeal to patriotism: “This is a great, great country the UK, we can easily cope with a no-deal scenario.”

When pressed, he claimed to guarantee people would not be left without their medicines and said it was “highly unlikely” there would be food shortages.

The Scottish Parliament also returns from recess next week and is expected to back a motion opposing a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances. The SNP, Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens will all support it and the Tories are under pressure to do so too, given previous comments from their leader Ruth Davidson that she could not back no-deal.

Analysis published by the Scottish Government last year warned that leaving without a deal and relying on World Trade Organisation rules for future trading relationships would cost the Scottish economy £12.7 billion a year – equivalent to a loss of nearly £2300 for each person in the country. It also forecast a 10 per cent fall in business investment.

But while the horrors of a no-deal Brexit loom large, it is worth remembering that the analysis also shows that even leaving the EU with a deal would represent a hammer blow to the economy.

Even if Britain became part of the European Economic Area – as close as you can get to the EU without being a member – the forecast was it would cost the economy £4 billion or the equivalent of £688 per head per year and business investment would fall by almost three per cent.

In the current situation, stopping a no-deal Brexit would look like a triumph for Mr Johnson’s opponents, but if they are keeping their eye on the prize, they will persevere in trying to halt Brexit altogether.