Boris Johnson’s surprise decision to request and obtain from HM the Queen an “unusually” long prorogation of Parliament from September 12th to October 14th is an extremely astute move that has wrong-footed those who oppose a “no deal” Brexit.
By cleverly blending the “customary” suspension of Parliament for the conference season with a standard short prorogation in anticipation of a “Queen’s speech”, supposedly aimed at laying out the legislative (domestic) program of the Government, Boris Johnson has made it particularly difficult timewise for the opposition to pass legislation that would force him to request a new “Brexit” delay from Brussels as well as unlikely that a “no confidence motion” – under the threat of a Corbyn government – would stop him in his tracks.
But there is probably much more to this gambit than meets the eye! One should remember that a “no deal “Brexit is the default position which will trigger the UK’s departure from the Union automatically on October 31, unless the UK requests a prolongation of its membership AND the EU 27 grant the request unanimously.
Interpreting the declaration of the PM (whom I suspect prefers reaching a deal for purely electoral reasons) regarding the crucial EU summit on October 24/5 which will focus on Brexit, one can reasonably infer that reassurances may have been given on both sides during the recent Biarritz G7 summit to engineer a “last minute” break-through in the purest EU tradition! This would explain the relative muted official reaction to the prorogation announcement by the EU and national governments, while letting the full blast of accusations of “outrageous and anti-democratic” behavior run its course by those not in the know. This well-rehearsed scenario would deliver substantial political dividends to both parties.
What could be the basis of a last minute agreement?
a) The British Government agree to accept the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May unchanged except for:
– Removing formally the “Irish backstop” (A big apparent win for BoJo!)
– Agreeing that, should no acceptable “alternative arrangements” be found to maintain an open border in Ireland before the end of the transition period, Northern Ireland (at least) would remain within the EU customs union until such arrangements were agreed. The UK could end the arrangement unilaterally but only if it offered Northern Ireland the possibility of a Referendum on remaining in the UK or becoming part or the Irish Republic. (a win for the EU preserving the substance of the backstop and an incentive to Ireland to agree)
– Starting the 2 year transition period on November 1 (a win for all citizens and economic actors).
b) The EU would agree:
– To reopen the W/A agreement to insert changes limited to those mentioned above (a tribute to BoJo’s negotiating skills!).
– To initiate the “future EU-UK” relationship negotiations in parallel with preserving the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (giving the appearance of a concession on sequencing).
Both sides could claim that the compromise eliminates the risk of a cliff edge withdrawal highly damageable to both parties and saves the much needed “transition period” to work out practical problems.
Parliament would vote the necessary legislation prior to October 31st opening the way for starting the “Transition period” during which the status quo ante remains in force (limiting the UK’s freedom to negotiate trade deals with third parties, in particular with the USA).
Negotiations would cover not only trade but also future security arrangements and possible association of the UK in some of the EU programs (Erasmus, Research, etc.). Such a process creates the most favorable environment for productive negotiations and gives more time to sort out supply chain arrangements, the role of the City (important to both parties in view of growing clout of $ and the American hegemon), finalize reciprocal “citizen’s rights”, etc.
On balance the (positive) outcome would probably bind the UK closer to the EU than to the USA reinforcing the position of both on the world stage at a time of high geopolitical strains. It would also confirm that the old “Westphalian” concept of “national sovereignty” and the mantra of “taking back control” need to be adapted to the new interdependent world resulting from globalization.
Boris Johnson could claim to have delivered Brexit as promised on October 31st and – having eliminated the Brexit Party’s raison d’être – could call elections with a very good chance of a comfortable victory assuring his premiership for the next 5 years, which after all, was his unquestionable top priority!
Of course, this is all pure speculation and a “no deal” Brexit remains high on list of possibilities with its likely disastrous consequences The relative calm on financial markets where the £ stabilized shortly after the prorogation announcement could be an indication that something is afoot and that authorities are carefully managing expectations!