BRUSSELS: The European Union is bracing for either a no-deal Brexit or another delay if Boris Johnson becomes Britain’s prime minister next week with a pledge to renegotiate a deal the bloc says it will not reopen.
The three-year Brexit crisis could be about to deepen as Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU “do or die” — with or without a deal — on Oct 31 sets Britain on a collision course with the bloc’s 27 other leaders and his own parliament.
Such is the concern about the likely impact on the $18.7 trillion EU economy that European capitals are ramping up pressure on Ireland to accelerate preparations for a no-deal exit that could roil financial markets and dislocate trade. The mood in Europe is dark.
“If they come and ask us to renegotiate the Brexit deal, we will say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’,” said an EU diplomat involved in what is now three years of talks since the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted 52 percent-48 percent to leave the bloc.
Johnson and his rival for the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party Jeremy Hunt both said on Monday they were not willing to accept the so-called Irish backstop element of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, even if a time limit was set.
If the winner, to be announced on July 23, sticks to that pledge it makes the chances of a European compromise all but impossible before the Brexit deadline.
“The Irish government and the EU are really clear that we will not be changing the content of the backstop agreement,” Irish finance minister Paschal Donohoe said on Tuesday.
The bloc’s priority is to support EU member Ireland and prevent a return to the 30 years of violence between mostly Protestant unionists who want to keep Northern Ireland British and mainly Catholic nationalists seeking a united Ireland.
A no-deal Brexit could tip Britain into recession, undermine sluggish euro zone growth and weaken London’s claim to be the world’s pre-eminent international financial centre.
Sterling plunged to a 27-month low against the dollar on Tuesday as Johnson and Hunt vied for the hardest Brexit stance, trying to win over Conservative party members keen for a clean break with the EU.
But EU leaders want to move on from Brexit, and say much will depend on how Johnson — who has cast himself as Britain’s Brexiteer-in-chief — acts if he becomes premier.
Johnson has said the EU must “look deep into our eyes” and realise he would go for a no-deal Brexit. The EU is determined not to reopen talks on the 600-page-long divorce treaty known as the Withdrawal Agreement.
Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay ruffled feathers last week in Brussels, telling EU negotiators the deal was “dead”.
“If that’s the attitude, there is nothing we can or we want to do,” said an official in Brussels briefed on the visit. “Why would we change anything? And especially for a Brexiteer.” It is likely that British members of parliament would try to block any no-deal Brexit.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019