Boris Johnson’s Plans for Brexit: Should we be Worried?


By Rachel Buckman

“Today, at this pivotal moment in our history, we again have to reconcile two noble sets of instincts – between the deep desire for friendship … between Britain and our European partners; and the simultaneous desire, equally heartfelt, for democratic self-government in this country.”

These words come from the acceptance speech of Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Such strong rhetoric captures the deep ideological divide that has plagued the Brexit debate. And yet, it is no secret where Johnson stands over this question. In 2016, Johnson, then Mayor of London, championed the Vote Leave campaign during the controversial Brexit referendum. Since then, Johnson has consistently resisted compromised solutions to Brexit. In particular, he took issue with the Brexit stance of Theresa May. In his resignation letter from the position of Foreign Secretary, Johnson referred to her as leading the UK towards the “status of [a] colony”. 

With such strong opinions, Johnson has become a controversial figure – National leader Simon Bridges commenting that the new British Prime Minister has a “buffoon-like quality.” However, the reality of Brexit under Johnson is far from a joke. He marks a dramatic change in the way Brexit will be dealt with, which may have considerable long-term consequences.  

Johnson has taken off the table any possibility of aborting the mission to leave the EU. In his words, he will “absolutely not” allow a second referendum to let the public reconsider the issue. More troubling is that the PM does not appear willing to delay the exit any further. The original exit date was 29 March 2019, but this date was extended to 31 October after the UK Parliament failed to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by May. Johnson has made it clear that he will not accept any more extensions, stating that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October “come what may.” What this means in practice is that the UK may be facing a ‘no-deal’ Brexit in the very near future. 

What would a no-deal Brexit mean in practice?

Since the referendum, UK politicians have been negotiating with the EU on what terms they will leave, meaning what kind of frameworks and systems will be in place in relation to issues such as trade and movement of people. Any agreement must first be agreed upon between the UK and EU leaders, but to come into force it also must be ratified by the British Parliament. A no-deal exit means there are no agreements in place for the future relationship between the UK and the European Union. Overnight, the UK would go from having freedom of trade and travel with continental Europe, to being a foreign nation no different than New Zealand. 

A no-deal Brexit would have an unprecedented impact on the economy and way of life in the UK, and at it this point it seems like a very likely possibility. This is because the Withdrawal Agreement reached by May, and rejected by Parliament, appears to not be open for renegotiation, with the EU calling it the “best possible” deal. Despite this, the agreement is not something Johnson appears willing to accept. 

One particular part of the Withdrawal Agreement that Johnson has taken issue with is the Irish Backstop. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, whereas the Republic of Ireland is not. Currently the two share a seamless border due to both being part of the European Union. Brexit threatens to disrupt this. The backstop agreement is that, if no other agreement is reached, an open border in Ireland should be maintained to protect the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Prior to this peace agreement,  the border was a focal point of violence and disagreement, with security checkpoints being regularly targetedby paramilitarily republicans. Therefore, the fear is that a hard Irish border would re-ignite tensions that have been relatively dormant for decades.

Johnson’s view is that the Backstop undermines the UK’s independence and the entire point of Brexit. In his first House of Commons statement, Johnson stated, “No country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self-government as this backstop does.” Comparatively, the EU seems unwilling to accept any deal which does no include an Irish backstop. This clash of views seems to lack any solution and leads the country one step closer to a no-deal exit.

The New Zealand Treasury has reported that if a no-deal exit goes ahead, some negative impacts may be experienced in New Zealand due to difficulties either exporting to the UK or importing UK goods to New Zealand. Winston Peters has rejected this view. According to Peters, there was sufficient importing infrastructure in place before the European Union was established, and the “job is to get [that] infrastructure ready now.” Yet Peters in general has taken a different perspective on Johnson than Simon Bridges. According to Peters, Johnson is a “seriously intelligent chap.”

Whether Johnson is a buffoon or an intelligent leader is perhaps no longer the biggest question. He is the leader of the UK and, save a major disruption, will be in October when Brexit is due to happen. Therefore, the real question is whether his seemingly immovable opinions have any ability to reach compromise. Will either Johnson or the EU give enough concessions to make a workable agreement? Or, alternatively, can the British economy and social structure cope with a no-deal Brexit?

Header image sourced from Getty Images

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