Brexit 5: The game is still on

BoJo’s Day of Breconing  

In a much-needed twist of events, the Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on 1 August 2019, leaving the newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a shrinking majority of just one in the House of Commons. The LibDem candidate Jane Dodds won with 13,826 votes, beating Conservative Chris Davis by 1,425 votes. This election represented the first real test for Johnson, following his arrival at No 10 and it resulted in the quickest by-election defeat for any new prime minister since World War Two. What will this mean for the new Prime Minister and for Brexit? The outcome of this by-election will make it harder for Boris to deliver Brexit on 31 October and will leave him more vulnerable to lose a possible motion of no confidence. The game is still on.

The death of the Northern Irish backstop?

Despite a shrinking majority following the Welsh by-election and uncertainty on the future, it is clear that with Boris Johnson leading Downing Street and a new Cabinet assembled, the political mood has taken a decisive swing away from Theresa May’s approach to the UK’s exit from the EU. The UK’s new Prime Minister has made clear to EU leaders by telephone that Brexit talks about a UK-EU trade deal will not resume until they agree to change their position on the contentious and anti-democratic Northern Irish backstop. The Prime Minister’s hardened position was anticipated by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who urged in a leaked letter addressed to EU27 leaders to ‘remain calm’. The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman explained that the Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by parliament several times, and clearly is not going to pass in its current form.  The Prime Minister stated that the UK is ready to engage and go the extra thousand miles to secure a deal with the EU, but that the backstop is ‘dead’ and must go.

£2.1 billion to turbocharge No Deal preparations

In an attempt to make it look like everything is under control in view of Brexit Day, the government has announced an extra £2.1 billion of funding to immediately turbocharge plans for a No Deal Brexit, which will cover the cost of a further 500 border force officers, ensuring continuing supplies of vital medicines and medical products, and improving transport around ports and managing traffic disruption in Kent. The new Chancellor, Sajid Javid, has unlocked this cash boost after claims by several MPs that the previous Chancellor Philip Hammond, who voted to remain in the EU and has now vowed to fight a No Deal Brexit from the backbenches, handicapped Brexit preparations. The new Chancellor stated that the Treasury now has ‘new priorities’ and ‘will play its full part’ in delivering Brexit by 31st October. The Treasury has indicated it has now made £6.3 billion available for Brexit preparations, which will cover additional training for new staff, investment in better IT and some £434 million available for safeguarding medical supplies, through boosting freight capacity, warehousing and stockpiling.

Johnson’s (failed) attempt to charm the awesome foursome

The new Prime Minister has done a whistle-stop tour of the UK’s four nations to outline the opportunities of Brexit, in what many are interpreting as a demonstration of Johnson’s commitment to the Union and what might be the beginning of a campaign for a post-Brexit general election. The Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy received an endorsement from his new Cabinet, but there has been tension in the devolved capitals of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who advocates for a Scottish exit from the UK and to become a member state of the EU, has criticised the Prime Minister’s approach towards No Deal and indeed Mr Johnson was booed when he arrived for talks at Bute House with the First Minister. The Prime Minister’s visit to Wales saw him seek support from farmers for his Brexit plans, but Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford expressed concern over the lack of detail on the plans. On his visit to Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister held a series of meetings with the five main Stormont parties and urged them to step up their efforts to restore devolved government after power-sharing agreements collapsed in January 2017. The Prime Minister took the opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and stated that in no circumstances would the UK introduce physical checks or infrastructure at Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic.

The Brussels reaction: Preserve the EUnity

In an op-ed for The Guardian, Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament and Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt claimed that “there isn’t time to limit the damage of a sudden severance from the world’s largest trading block. Unless a further extension is requested or article 50 is revoked by Halloween, the EU and the global economy will face a “dramatic shock”. The European negotiators are firm on the point that the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, cannot be ditched. Verhofstadt called for a united European as “a bastion of the free world” that can tackle climate emergency and set the terms of global trade. It remains to be seen whether BoJo will manage to stick to his promise to leave the EU “do or die” by 31 October.

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at