The impact of the new UK Prime Minister on Europe

On 24 July, Sir Boris Johnson became the new Prime Minister of United Kingdom, after the disappointing mandate of his party colleague Theresa May.

Boris Johnson gave his first statement in the House of Commons since becoming prime minister, and set out his position on Brexit, which he has promised to complete by 31 October.

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 – Boris Johnson

Responding to questions from MPs, he said he was committed to “getting rid” of the backstop, describing it as “divisive” and “anti-democratic”.

After the speech, Mr Barnier sent a note to European leaders, repeating the EU’s position that getting rid of the backstop was “of course unacceptable”, and labelling Mr Johnson’s speech “rather combative”. But he added that despite disagreements over the backstop, the EU was prepared to “work constructively, within our own mandate”, and was prepared to analyse “any UK idea on withdrawal issues that are compatible with the existing withdrawal agreement”.

Concerning the possibility of a no deal, he said it would not be “the EU’s choice. In any case, what remains essential on our side is to remain calm, stick to our principles and guidelines and show solidarity and unity of the 27.”

He added that he would “remain available throughout the summer for talks with the UK”.

The backstop is a key piece of the deal negotiated by his predecessor’s government, dictating what will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It is a last resort that guarantees a frictionless border if no better solution is devised in time – by maintaining close ties between the UK and the EU until such a solution is found.

The danger of Johnson’s credibility gap is that it could prompt EU leaders to underestimate his willingness to drive Britain off the Brexit cliff, triggering a potentially catastrophic chain reaction.

At this point, the UK-EU relations look like a fight in which there are no winners. The new prime minister promised to leave the European Union by the end of October. Therefore: “do or die”, accepting that a no-deal Brexit will happen if an agreement cannot be reached by then. The case of a no-deal would be disastrous for everyone: on the UK side, the lack of an agreement with European Union could bring damages for its economy; on the European Union side, the organization would break the relations with a historical state of the European Union, which is fundamental for stronger international relevance. In the background, obviously, there are 3.2 million EU citizens in the United Kingdom to protect.

However, the prime minister’s strategy remains clear: he will combine public threats and private charm. First, he will frighten Europe by giving every impression of going hell for leather for a no-deal Brexit.

By: Domenico Greco

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