Hopes for a Brexit deal faded on Tuesday after Boris Johnson reportedly told Angela Merkel that a divorce settlement (if you will) is “essentially impossible”.
During a call with the German Chancellor, Johnson blamed the EU’s recalcitrance. Merkel insisted that Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union. That, combined with what Boris charges is Brussels’ unwillingness to engage him (an extremely ironic contention coming from Johnson), means a deal is likely out of the question.
The news comes after the Spectator published a text message from a Johnson official who lays out the government’s “plan” for when talks ultimately collapse later this week. Essentially, Boris will blame everyone but himself, including Ireland, Parliament and, naturally, Brussels. To wit, from the text:
We will also make clear that this government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless. They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals. This won’t happen. We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.
‘When they say ‘so what is the point of delay?’, we will say “This is not our delay, the government is not asking for a delay — Parliament is sending you a letter and Parliament is asking for a delay but official government policy remains that delay is an atrocious idea that everyone should dismiss. Any delay will in effect be negotiated between you, Parliament, and the courts — we will wash our hands of it, we won’t engage in further talks, we obviously won’t given any undertakings about cooperative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere cooperation’ will be in the toilet, we will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave.
So, Johnson will apparently seek the delay mandated by law (passed last month during a frantic week) and then refuse to engage in any actual discussions over the interim period.
In other words, the government has decided that no deal is possible (in keeping with the rather obvious fact that Boris never earnestly tried to negotiate) and is now preparing to begrudgingly ask for an extension while simultaneously making it clear that he has no intention of actually working towards an agreement once that extension goes into effect. Instead, he’ll look to an election for a strong mandate that he’ll then cite in the course of delivering a hard Brexit.
None of this is a surprise to markets, but as Bloomberg’s Richard Jones wrote Tuesday, “it is enough to take the pound lower”. “In the near-term, this… means an extension, a general election and ongoing political uncertainty”, he said, adding that while “the day of reckoning is not imminent… it does show how difficult things will be once that day arrives”.
“Boris Johnson will never take responsibility for his own failure to put forward a credible deal”, Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said Tuesday, in a statement. “His strategy from day one has been for a no-deal Brexit”.