It has never been doubted that it would be better to leave the European Union with an agreement than without one. Only irresponsible demagogues, delusional ideologues and nonconformist braggarts claimed that Britain should attempt to walk away from its most important strategic alliance without any partnership agreement. Sadly, Boris Johnson has filled each of those roles. Through a combination of cynicism and recklessness, the prime minister brought Britain to the brink of calamity, prepared to fall off the edge of a cliff and call it majestic flight. To what extent he was bluffing is a question that can now thankfully go unanswered because there is a deal.
The content is still unclear, and the proximity of the December 31 deadline leaves little time to absorb the character of the new arrangements, much less to scrutinize the details. That’s partly a function of Johnson’s notorious tendency to be wrong, but it also reflects some tactical astuteness. The prime minister did not I want this agreement to be examined. What can already be said with some certainty is that it prescribes an immediate downgrade for the UK economy. That is a function of leaving the single market and the customs union, and those options were included in the negotiating mandate. Trade volumes will decrease. Supply chains will be disrupted. Jobs will be lost. Those are intrinsic characteristics of Johnson’s hard Brexit model.
Reducing the space for negotiations did not facilitate them. The biggest stumbling block in terms of the long-term future was alignment with European standards and the mechanism for either party to take punitive action against anti-competitive practices. The EU has moved in some way. Brussels no longer expects the automatic implementation of continental standards in UK law. But Downing Street has changed even more, accepting a “level playing field”.
There can be no trade deal without blurring somewhere the vision of impeccable sovereignty that Brexit ideologues cherish. That concession will be buried in fine print and Johnson will use all his rhetorical arsenal and his powers of political distraction to present his agreement as a letter of heroic national emancipation. The shortage of time available for ratification is tailored for that purpose. Parliament will be remembered, but hundreds of pages of technical agreements cannot be assimilated before the end of next week. The truncated calendar leaves little room to judge the rejection and approval options. The first would be disastrous; the latter renounces democratic responsibility. But that’s no surprise. This is how Mr. Johnson does business. Contempt for dissenting opinion and fear of scrutiny are central to his political method.
An agreement is welcome when the absence of one poses an imminent threat to national security and prosperity. The prime minister, with his “jumbo Canada style offer“He has cynically played the system. It has timed out and wasted diplomatic goodwill until the only viable option was a bad Brexit softened at the edges by the prospect of it being implemented in an orderly manner. To have avoided the worst case scenario is a regrettable achievement. Johnson deserves no credit for dodging a calamity looming so close because he was driving so enthusiastically toward it. This is also intrinsic to their modus operandi. His main skill is to get out of the jams in which his own negligence and recklessness get him. This time around, you’ll celebrate the escape by the hair as if it were a cause for seasonal merriment, in a typically bombastic and fraudulent way. Relief is appropriate and welcome, but not gratitude, not to this prime minister.
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