Boris Johnson’s opponents celebrated wildly the overturning of his prorogation gambit in the UK Supreme Court earlier this week. Their exultation showed how much they crave a game-changer. But this doesn’t feel like it.
The government’s strategy is still on track.
It’s first choice is to negotiate a deal which really delivers an exit from the EU relationship. Cue triumph and game over. But it seems just as likely that the EU does not budge from its single offer to date: a relationship which locks the UK into the European model indefinitely.
So Boris charges towards a no-deal exit on 31 October, using any tool in his grasp. If ‘they’ want to stop it, ‘they’ will have take charge – constitutionally of course – and do the dirty work themselves. (‘They’ encompasses anyone frustrating his goal.) He then fights an election on ‘no deal’ vs ‘Europe’s deal’’.
And if they can’t stop Brexit, he will then fight an election on ‘that wasn’t so bad – let’s get on with it’ vs – you guessed it – ‘Europe’s deal’.
Why the confidence after a very tough week? Boris and his alleged svengali, Dominic Cummings, are betting that ‘no deal’ will be a relatively damp squib. The economy has been steady through all the political turmoil. A recent poll of economists suggested ‘no-deal’ would prompt ‘only’ a 1.5% drop in GDP during 2020.
Europe has indicated it’s not in the business of blocking roads and ports, frustrating medicine or power supplies, or grounding the planes. Additional border bureaucracy will impose costs but it will play well if the only border stoppage on day one is the anti-Brexit protestors blocking the Dublin to Belfast road with a day of anger against the ‘‘hard border’.
The main impact of ‘no deal’ is in the longer term. As the FT’s perceptive European correspondent, Wolfgang Munchau explains, the EU is deadly serious about shutting out regulatory competition from ‘Singapore-on-Thames’. That is why it’s only offering ‘Europe’s deal’. Its commitment to ‘manage’ competition through what it calls a regulatory ‘level playing field’, will likely lead it to pare UK access back towards WTO-mandated levels (this is why it does not have free trade agreements with countries it regards as strategic competitors).
The question, as Munchau discerns, is whether this effect will be offset or indeed exceeded by the extent to which British resources profitably flow to other global opportunities (hear Boris Johnson using a vision of ‘pink-eyed Terminators’ to reinforce Britain’s potential as a global tech hub at the UN).
If the UK finally sets out on its own path, it looks like Europe will be niggling it to go faster and further.