Wednesday, December 8

The Brexit trade war may turn against Boris Johnson this time

When in trouble, Boris Johnson flees into his comfort zone. It has already known how to use the chaos of Brexit to its advantage, and it may do so again. Johnson may want to escalate the tension to unleash retaliation from the EU, thereby blaming Brussels and President Macron. But this would be nothing more than a distraction from his pile of problems.

This week Boris Johnson may have seen signs of his political mortality. The newspapers that have supported him the most have turned against him for accusations of corruption directed at his Government: they have not only been the Daily Mail and the Sun, but also the Express. Director of The Spectator criticize in his cover to the “court of chaos“of the prime minister. Johnson has ordered the deputies tories to humble themselves in public by voting for corruption in Parliament.

Now, they may not obey you so easily. He has already betrayed the left and right sectors of his party with his machinations, leading his parliamentarians to make 43 dizzying 180-degree turns. His popularity is at a record low and his party’s leadership has been lost. So where is it headed?

Johnson has no refuge in any area of ​​politics. The British National Health Service (NHS) has been overwhelmed by the wave of the coronavirus since the summer (with an incidence above 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants every 14 days), with a harsh winter and a season of flu ahead. The welfare crisis is blocking NHS beds (although hadn’t Johnson said his tax hike would fix it?). Nor has he achieved any recognition for his leadership at the G7 or COP26.

The cost of living crisis is putting pressure on households, while those who have lost subsidies are struggling. As the prime minister fixes his gaze on his stupid henchmen sitting around his government table, each of them heads a troubled department.

Trade war

But Johnson will always have Brexit left. After a month of fruitless talks, Lord Frost suggested this week in the House of Lords that suspending the Northern Ireland part of the Brexit deal will be the “only option” if negotiations fail. Frost says the threshold for invoking Article 16, which would suspend the deal, has already been reached – a claim equivalent to declaring trade war.

Speaking to EU ambassadors after those tortuous talks, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič warned of “serious consequences“Ursula von der Leyen left the White House with the support of President Joe Biden for retaliation should the UK abolish the Northern Ireland protocol.

Frost likes to provoke. What a cheek to urge the EU to “keep calm” and “move away from confrontation” while accusing the bloc of protecting “its own interests” rather than “supporting the peace process and the people of Northern Ireland”. Peace in Northern Ireland is a small matter for Johnson, but if he fosters tension, the blame falls squarely on him.

A trade war takes time to develop. Activation of Article 16 would be followed by a one-month cooldown period, followed by conversations and more conversations. It takes a whole year before a trade agreement can be terminated. It may seem like a very long time for a prime minister who never thinks beyond the next day.

Johnson does not have many weapons, so he has already launched the self-destructive threat to withdraw from the EU’s Horizon Europe joint research programs and eliminate the 15 billion pounds contributed by the United Kingdom, to the horror of British scientists, who fear being left. isolated from the center of the discussion.

Why should the French, with elections looming, stick to the calendar of the British trade war? They could legally slow down traffic in British ports with ever tighter controls on trucks, causing queues to flow inland. Perhaps Johnson wants these retaliations to arouse outrage against France and the EU, in order to reunite his old alliance of ‘leavers’ (the favorable ones of Brexit) for a second Azincourt battle of brave Englishmen against the ranks of the EU.

But this could turn out to be another political minefield, rather than a useful distraction. What if supply chains get stuck and people start to link wage stagnation and rising prices to the loss of 4% of GDP that the Office for Budget Responsibility has blamed on Brexit? What if most people are fed up with endless Brexit, who did they think it was “done”?

Bad Brexit

Current polls give us an idea. On What the UK Thinks (What does the United Kingdom think), of NatCen, asks: “How well or badly do you think the Government is doing in the negotiation and management of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU?” To this 57% answered that it was wrong; 31%, good. “Do you think Brexit is having an overall good or bad impact on the economy as a whole?” Here 44% say bad; 25%, good. “In retrospect, do you think the UK was right or wrong to vote out of the EU?” This time, 39% say it was the right thing to do, while 48% say the opposite. Of course, all of this could lead to an anti-French patriotic ruckus, but the figures suggest a growing understanding of Brexit lies.

If Johnson fans the flames of this turmoil, Keir Starmer’s promise to “make Brexit work” could begin to gather steam. In a context of chaos caused by Brexit, letting “the grown-ups” sit down to level trade hurdles may seem like an attractive possibility. As long as the UK does not fall below EU food and safety standards, we could let the trade flow. The “sovereign” option of setting our own rules would remain, but in any case, who wants them to lose their validity? We could make an agreement for musicians and artists to sell their wares on the mainland.

All of this would require tiptoeing. Any suggestion of rejoining the single market would make Labor ‘remoaners’ (a “remainer whiner “, a derogatory term for those in favor of staying in the EU) are accused of using the Brexit back door. But over time, British companies looking across the Irish Sea will be able to see how Northern Ireland It flourishes by staying in. In fact, Northern Ireland manufacturing employers tell me about a 61% increase in sales to Ireland and backlogs full of sales derived from the rest of the UK. Johnson’s trade war looks good. increasingly as an opportunity for Labor.

The wisest voices warn Johnson to step back. If Article 16 is activated, expert observers, such as Anand Menon, from The UK in a Changing Europe, believe that there is still a limited deal that can be reached over some trade hurdles. But it is impossible by law to revoke the United Kingdom’s signature on the agreement that establishes that the European Court of Justice is the arbitrator of commercial disputes. In this sense, Johnson has been cornered: will he make a humiliating compromise or will he continue to fight for mere political fun, whatever the damage and risks to peace in Northern Ireland?

Translation by Julián Cnochaert.

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