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Boris Johnson’s 6 point Brexit plan provides no real answers

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boris johnson 6 point plan for Brexit
Boris Johnson appears at
the Economists for Free Trade launch in
Westminster.

Getty

LONDON — Boris Johnson has today unveiled what he describes as
his “six point plan” for Brexit in a
4,600 word piece for the Telegraph.

It is designed to put pressure on the prime minister Theresa May
ahead of the Conservative party conference this weekend, but also
to answer criticisms from Downing Street’s spokesman earlier
this month
that the former foreign secretary has “no
new ideas”.

So is today’s 6 point plan really anything new and does it
amount to a concrete plan for Brexit? Let’s go through Johnson’s
points one by one.

1. ‘Chuck Chequers’


boris johnson theresa may prime minister uk
Theresa
May and Boris Johnson, pictured in November
2016.

Gareth Fuller – WPA Pool/Getty
Images


Theresa May’s so-called “Chequers agreement” was signed up to by
Johnson while in government but he has since labeled it a
betrayal of Brexit being pursued by “invertebrates” in
government. Today’s column merely repeats this criticism and
states once again that May should abandon her plan altogether,
which the prime minister has so far consistently refused to do.
May’s plan, which has already been dismissed by the European
Union and opposed by all wings of the Conservative party and the
opposition, has little chance of being agreed on either side of
the English Channel. Johnson’s call for it to be scrapped is
therefore an easy hit. However, what matters is whether Johnson,
and the large number of other Conservative MPs whose views he
represents, have an alternative. So what is it?

2. ‘Scrap Irish backstop and rewrite withdrawal agreement’


Irish borderGetty

The Irish “backstop” is an agreement signed up to by Theresa
May’s government, including its then foreign Secretary Boris
Johnson back in December last year. Under the terms of the
agreement Northern Ireland would remain within the EU Single
Market and Customs Union if the UK and EU fail to secure a
comprehensive deal before the end of the Brexit transition
period, thus preventing a hard border between Ireland and
Northern Ireland. As Downing Street has pointed out to
journalists repeatedly in recent weeks, at the time of the deal
Johnson
congratulated May
and remained in government for a full seven
months before finally deciding it was unacceptable. But again,
criticising the backstop is easy enough. What matter is whether
Johnson has an alternative plan. Today’s article, which merely
restates his wish to create as-yet non-existent technological
solutions to the Irish border problem, suggests that he does not.

3. Negotiate “SuperCanada” free trade deal


Boris JohnsonGetty

From the start of the Brexit negotiations the EU has made it
clear that the UK has essentially two options — to remain closely
wedded to EU rules and regulations after Brexit (the so-called
Norway option) or to pursue a much looser free trade deal, akin
to the EU’s agreement with Canada. The problem with the first
option is that it would mean signing up to freedom of movement
and other elements of EU membership which May has committed to
abandon, while losing all say over those regulations, having
departed the EU.

The problem with the Canada option is that it would entail a much
looser trading relationship with what is the UK’s largest market,
which the government has already stated would cost the economy an
estimated £877 million a week. Given the Brexit campaign,
including Johnson, promised that Brexit would actually benefit
the UK economy and the NHS, by some £350m extra a week, this
makes a Canada-style deal a very hard sell. Johnson doesn’t
explicitly deal with this difficulty in today’s piece but instead
suggests that his version of the Canada deal would be somehow
more economically beneficial. Quite how this would be the case
isn’t made clear in Johnson’s 4,600-word piece, suggesting that
Johnson’s only real new idea been to place the word “Super” in
front of his existing plan.

4. Invest in border controls


Drivers wait next to their parked lorries on the M20 motorway, which leads from London to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Ashford and the Ferry Terminal at Dover, as part of Operation Stack in southern England, Britain July 31, 2015.
Drivers
wait next to their parked lorries on the M20 motorway, which
leads from London to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Ashford and
the Ferry Terminal at Dover, as part of Operation Stack in
southern England, Britain July 31, 2015.

Reuters / Neil Hall

Johnson’s commitment to a ‘hard’ version of Brexit outside of EU
trade and customs rules means that under his plans there would
inevitably need to be much more stringent border controls with
Europe than currently exist under EU membership. How these border
controls would work, where they would be placed given the lack of
space at Dover and other ports, and how they would be paid for,
isn’t made clear by Johnson in this piece.

5. Prepare for no deal


brexit bus nhs boris johnsonStefan Rousseau/PA Images

Theresa May’s critics on the right of the party have long-called
for her to more explicitly prepare to leave the EU without a
deal. Those pushing this idea see it either as a negotiating
tactic to force the EU to offer her a better deal, or in many
cases as a genuinely good outcome from negotiations. For these
MPs, the so-called “World Trade” option would see Britain cutting
all ties with the EU and trading under World Trade Organisation
rules instead. One problem with this scenario is that there are
very few examples of major industrial nations trading solely
under such rules without also being part of other multinational
trading relationships. The other big problem is that the
government’s own estimates
suggest that such a scenario would
cost the UK economy by up to £1.25 billion a we eek, which is the
equivalent of 44% of the NHS budget. By any calculation this
would be an economic catastrophe and a million miles away from
the £350m a week “Brexit dividend” promised by Johnson during the
referendum.

6. Start trade negotiations around the world in April


boris johnson Getty

The UK is currently forbidden from beginning trade negotiations
with third countries while still a member of the EU. However,
once Britain leaves the EU in March then those negotiations can
get underway, with the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox
finally able to do the job he was hired to do some two years ago.
However, given that such negotiations were already due to start
during any transition period, it’s not clear exactly what, if
anything, new Johnson is proposing.

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