Peering over the precipice with Boris


The first lesson anyone preparing for negotiation is taught is this: never enter a negotiation that you’re not willing to walk away from.

In that context, Boris Johnson is right (I never thought I’d say that). It is impossible to get the best deal possible from the EU unless the UK is willing to walk away with no deal – and the EU believes that.

Theresa May repeatedly stated that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ but it was soon clear that it was purely hot air. It was never credible that she would walk away with no deal.

Is Boris different? And can he get better terms?

Of course, it all boils down to how credible is his position that he would be willing to walk away with no deal. Having made acceptance of a no-deal option a condition of being selected for a cabinet position, he has started well.

The EU also probably believes that he may be one of the few people in parliament who would be crazy enough to walk over the no-deal precipice – and hang the consequences. There seems little doubt as to his tendency to recklessness. And that will make a no-deal threat more credible even in the absence of adequate preparation.

Will parliament let him? Short of bringing down the government, not even those highly schooled in arcane parliamentary procedure (and that does not include EU negotiators) can possibly predict whether a mechanism can be found to block a no-deal Brexit. We will all simply have to wait and see how events evolve.

If press reports are anything to go by, European leaders have started to believe that, under a Boris premiership, no-deal is a real possibility. Given the short time scales and a potentially chaotic administration, it may even be probable.

Conciliatory noises and new, creative approaches have started to emerge while the public rhetoric remains firm that the EU is not for turning. And the Irish know full well that the whole backstop approach will be blown to smithereens and their economy will tank in the event of no-deal chaos. For anyone who believes that Brexit itself is a disaster – deal or no deal – none of this is encouraging. But for those who wish to get Brexit done and dusted, Johnson’s approach has its merits. It’s a high stakes gamble that might work or may end up spreading chaos, widespread economic damage and civil unrest. Or a formula may be found where everyone can pretend they got what they wanted.

During his campaign, Johnson painted himself as someone willing to bet the farm and people’s livelihoods and well-being on the belief that he can get a better deal by holding hands as the UK, Ireland and the EU all peer over the precipice and start slipping. It remains to be seen where it will all end.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Stephen Gwynne says

    I share your semi-upbeat and pragmatic perspective.

    All the signs look encouraging for a way forward now that a Brexit committed PM is in power. How different events would have been if Boris was PM three years ago but perhaps the last three years were needed to allow the national consciousness to adapt.

    The inauguration of Boris seems to have come with a few Brexit windfalls as well, with Jo Swinson and Caroline Lucas effectively skewering the democratic case for a 2nd referendum by admitting that they would still reject the result if it was leave. Similarly Gina Miller was taken to task by Andrew Neil who was unable to escape the mental stranglehold set by Neil regarding Miller’s true attentions, to reject the democratic result of 2016.

    Regarding a WTO Brexit, in the main Europe is now prepared and so the question is now one of pride which will determine whether the EU is a cooperative neighbour or a tyrannical organisation hell bent on its own self-destructive whilst at the same time risking jobs and livelihoods right across Europe.

    EU protectionism underlies the blame game that the EU has initiated from the start but this blame game falls on death ears regarding Boris. The bilateral backstop is now rejected whether the EU likes it or not. I presume the EU still have not acknowledged that Theresa May’s Deal is dead. Therefore whilst the EU might attempt to play chicken, even with the conclusion of a WTO Brexit, I predict, a political agreement will soon emerge which will form the basis of a Temporary FTA along the lines of GATT article 24.

    If anything, WTO preparations to date have enabled both sides to identify the strategic basis of a renewed relationship and one which seeks to bring the EU, albeit reluctantly, into the orbit of a global cosmopolitan free trade framework. In other words, Global Britain is forcing a Global EU rather than the status quo of a protectionist EU.

    As a free trade skeptic, I am concerned about the negative consequences of free trade for the climate, the environment and the global ecology but I similarly acknowledge that free trade does increase the wealth of nations and has since its inception lifted billions out of the hard toil of subsistence living which I know from personal experience over the last three years is hard unpredictable work.

    Therefore the task at hand is how to formulate climate, environmental and ecological protections within a globalised free trade framework. At present, I can only imagine that significant elements of our global ecology need to be put beyond the reach of globalised capitalism with nations being put in charge of establishing their own sustainability, sufficiency and resilience strategies in cooperation with other nations. This means collectively looking at human population growth and the human consumption of the global ecology that forms the essential and intrinsic basis of life support systems the world over.

    For me, the radical centre is this respect, is not the highest point of global power in a resource constrained world but is located in each and every nation from which to derive fair and just strategies to ensure sustainable, sufficient and resilient futures for all nations with nations working together for the benefit of all humans and nonhumans alike.

    How this might manifest is for me the true test of our times. How do we maintain a liberalised ethic, enable the peace evoking interdependencies of free trade but at the same time ensure nations are sustainable, sufficient and resilient regarding the uncertain climatic, environmental and ecological disruptions that lie ahead.

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