Jean Claude Juncker
Bruno Waterfield of the Times sees potentially more movement from the EU than the ultra Europhiles seem to think possible – provided EU 27 are convinced Johnson can sell an amended deal to the Commons
“Jean-Claude Juncker could stay on as president of the European Commission if there is a no-deal Brexit on October 31, a senior source has said.
His five-year term is due to end on that day but he could be asked to stay on to avoid a power vacuum at the same time as a no-deal crisis, according to a minister in a European government
Unilateral” EU measures, covering sectors from aviation to fishing, will cushion European economies but are only temporary in the absence of a withdrawal treaty or trade agreement with Britain. The City of London would face “very damaging” job losses, flights would be disrupted and there would be big border queues at British ports, according to Brussels reports on no-deal planning designed to “protect the vital interests of the EU”.
Diplomats and officials in Brussels believe that talks would begin within six weeks of a hard Brexit as the British government sought to soften the impact. “If Britain leaves without a deal on October 31, we expect them to be back at the negotiating table by November,” a senior European source said.
The commission has not published any plans for the Irish border, which is likely to become a flashpoint in a no-deal crisis.
The EU, represented by the commission, would demand the same basic terms as the present withdrawal treaty — residency rights for European citizens, the payment of financial obligations and measures to prevent a hard Irish border — before talks would be opened. EU and British negotiators would then have to quickly carve out “equivalence” deals on visa-free travel rights, aviation, fishing, financial services, road haulage and other key sectors before temporary European measures lapsed in April next year.
Such negotiations — coming before trade talks — would be unprecedented in their scope and number in what officials, on both sides, describe as a legal revolution.
European Union officials and diplomats are bemused by the torrent of seemingly random and meaningless words from the former foreign secretary. a no-deal Brexit really a “million-to-one against” chance if it is really “do or die”(an unhappy chime with Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade) by October 31? The two statements made within 24 hours of each other seem contradictory.
He says that the withdrawal agreement is dead but wants to “disaggregate” (whatever that means) the parts that he likes.
or the EU there are three main elements and moments between Mr Johnson taking the keys to No 10 in late July and an important summit of European leaders on October 17.
The first element is the timetable. How Mr Johnson handles his first weeks in office will be critical. The EU expects that the new Conservative leader will spend the summer weeks building his team before a tour of European capitals, beginning with critical talks in Dublin.
September, European diplomats hope, will be spent on a charm offensive to convince EU leaders that the new prime minister can deliver and that he is serious about getting a new deal.
His new negotiating team, and sherpa, will be key and the European side is ready for several weeks of intensive soundings to prepare the ground for Mr Johnson to announce his Brexit plan at the Conservative Party conference.
In the meantime he is expected to keep his hands free and to avoid any constitutional rows with the House of Commons to show that he is serious about getting a deal across the line.
In August the most watched development will be the official Mr Johnson appoints to replace Olly Robbins, Mrs May’s lead Brexit negotiator. This will be the crucial figure for the EU side.
After announcing his strategy to the party faithful in Manchester, Mr Johnson will have just over two weeks until a October 17 EU summit in Brussels that is itself two weeks before the present Brexit deadline.
Amid some suitable theatre and drama, the EU is willing to move further than with Mrs May if — and it is a big if — Mr Johnson can persuade other leaders he can get Brexit across the line.
Talks will focus on the Irish backstop. His leadership campaign’s revival of the “Malthouse” proposal to tear up the withdrawal agreement, scrapping the backstop but keeping a transition to prevent a no deal is a complete non-starter.
The EU’s hope is that some sort of deal — tweaking, disaggregating backstop dates to create a timetable in a new legally binding protocol, a “joint interpretive instrument” and rewriting the Brexit political declaration on the future relationship — is Mr Johnson’s objective.
If, as they expect, the new Tory leader is in a deal-making mode, then the EU is ready to talk and might make concessions to build a timetabled, if not time-limited, backstop particularly if potential changes are squared with Dublin. But he will have to convince them that he has a serious chance of getting it past the Commons.
There is much talk in the Brussels corridors of terms of pushing the backstop’s potential trigger point into a distant future where it could be superseded by technological fixes or sectoral agreements that ease friction on the Irish bordertargeted at specific trade flows.
The text of the draft withdrawal treaty will have to be tweaked to take into account the Brexit delay and there will be opportunities in a protocol to make binding changes to the “time frame” of the backstop, which can be broken down into sectors and different parts.
One option for Mr Johnson might be to throw the DUP under a bus by returning to the original plan of a Northern Ireland-only backstop, removing Eurosceptic opposition to the present version as a trap to catch Britain in a customs union.
Their fear is that the new prime minister will not spend the summer building the foundations of a deal but will, echoing some of his campaign rhetoric, present the EU with an ultimatum of no deal unless the backstop is torn up.
That is seen as putting Britain and the EU on track to a certain no-deal Brexit and one that forces European leaders to take partial ownership of a painful and significant economic event.
The question of who pulls the trigger on a no-deal is crucial for the EU and explains why most European capitals are open to talking with the new prime minister.
Even President Macron of France, the most hawkish EU leader on the prospect, is not relaxed about having to take personal ownership of a situation that would hurt many French people and could lead to protests.
If Britain were to crash out without an agreement, the European side wants the blame clearly pinned on Mr Johnson so compromise must come first — if the EU can work out what he is saying”.
“The EU still likes to say the deal it offered to Theresa May cannot be “reopened” but this is a bit of a verbal trick. No one is seriously expecting a new 585-page deal to be negotiated. If a few sentences were added to the end, giving either side the ability to walk away – in the way EU members and Nato members can walk away – then Parliament would probably vote it through. The Northern Irish backstop is a problem, but alternatives are there. Agreement is tantalisingly close
Meanwhile, the cost of not doing a deal is becoming clearer. Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, had been saying that no-deal – however painful – would be better than more compromise with the Brits. But this week his finance minister spelt out what no-deal would mean for Ireland: three years of pain, 85,000 job losses, economic growth crushed and billions of euros in extra borrowing. Why go through all this if it could be avoided, by a bit of goodwill?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London