Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

As Johnson set to become PM, ministers pledge to resign

The UK's governing Conservative party will announce on Tuesday (23 July) the winner of its leadership race, with former foreign minister Boris Johnson the frontrunner to win the premiership, as the country is legally set to leave the EU on 31st October.

He will be off to a rocky start as the finance minister Philip Hammond, and David Gauke, the justice secretary, have both said they will resign by Wednesday if Johnson becomes the new premier, because they cannot support a no-deal Brexit.

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"I understand that his conditions for serving in his government would include accepting a no-deal exit on 31 October, and that's not something that I could ever sign up to," Hammond said.

There are predictions that other ministers and junior ministers opposed to no deal, such as the international development secretary, Rory Stewart could resign as well.

Johnson has campaigned by falsely accusing the EU over fish regulations, vowing to revive the country's "mojo" and promising that Britain will leave the EU at the end of October "come what may".

Johnson has said he wants to start negotiating with Brussels immediately, which will be very difficult as the EU goes on holiday for August.

Brussels officials and EU leaders have also repeatedly said that the withdrawal deal, agreed almost a year ago between Brussels and the British government of Theresa May, is not up for renegotiation.

There is also a special distrust for Johnson in Brussels, who began his career as a Brussels-based journalist for the right-wing Daily Telegraph exaggerating stories on EU red tape and bureaucracy.

Johnson has said, just as May has argued, that the key to winning the majority of the British parliament for the divorce deal (which has been already rejected three times by lawmakers) is to remove the so-called "backstop" arrangement, an insurance policy that would avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The UK has so far failed to come up with an alternative, with the EU and Ireland arguing that technical solutions are not yet sufficient to police a customs border there without a hard border.

Backstop conundrum

And over the weekend, the deputy Irish prime minister warned that a change in British prime minister will not shift the fundamental realities of Brexit.

"If the approach of the new British prime minister is that they're going to tear up the withdrawal agreement, I think we're in trouble. I think we're all in trouble, quite frankly," Simon Coveney told the BBC.

"That's like saying, 'Either give me what I want or I'm going to burn the house down for everybody'," he said, adding that a no-deal Brexit would not be the fault of the EU, but would be entirely down to UK political considerations.

If the no-deal Brexit happened, Coveney added, Ireland would need to impose some form of border checks with Northern Ireland to safeguard its position in the EU single market.

"Just because there's a change in personality as British prime minister doesn't mean that the negotiation of the last three years and the solutions that were designed by the British government as much as by the EU aren't still as relevant and important today as they were six or eight weeks ago," he said.

He added that the backstop is "about reassuring people in Northern Ireland that they are not going to go back to the friction and tensions of the past".

But Johnson is adamant he will take Britain out of the EU by end of October, even if it possibly means proroguing (suspending) parliament. However, British MPs might try to stop that.

The parliament last week passed a measure that prevents the new prime minister from suspending parliament in the autumn.

The new prime minister will have a majority of only three MPs, which could shrink if some Conservatives fled to the Liberal Democrats or other parties over the summer. The opposition Labour party is also planning to call for a vote of no-confidence soon.

A snap election might not change the parliamentary stalemate.

Unless Britain revokes the withdrawal process, or asks for a new delay, it will automatically leave the bloc on 31 October, after 46-years membership.

EU leaders might be reluctant to give another extension to Britain at their summit in mid-October, with most being fed up with the saga in Britain.

New EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said Britain can have an extension if it's for a strong reason.

Johnson argued that a no-deal Brexit will not impact the British economy negatively, but experts say the British economy could shrink by two percent or more.

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