Britain’s former ambassador to the European Union Ivan Rogers has predicted that Britain will leave the post-Brexit transition at the end of this year with no deal, describing Boris Johnson as a Trumpite politician who wants the EU to fail.
“Johnson and his team persuaded themselves that the EU would be so panicked that they would give in eventually. And it didn’t happen. Boris didn’t, I believe, start off as a true no dealer, but he seems now formally in the camp with Dominic Cummings: ‘to hell with it, we should walk away’,” Sir Ivan told The Irish Times.
“He is quite Trumpite in method; he was always fascinated by Trump and his strategy to take the other side by surprise and destabilise it.”
Sir Ivan resigned as ambassador to the EU in January 2017 after a leaked memo revealed his pessimism about Theresa May’s prospects of negotiating a trade deal with Brussels. Since his retirement, he has criticised Britain’s handling of the negotiations under both May and Johnson.
“The UK conduct of the of this set of negotiations has, if anything, been even more dismal than the UK conduct of the previous set of negotiations, including in August by demanding negotiating sessions and then having nothing whatever new to say in them,” he said.
“The EU will say that they tried to do a deal but the UK never accepted the obvious automatic consequences of leaving the customs union and single market, they had better now see and experience those consequences and they need a period of sobering up whilst they realise just how difficult it’s going to be as a third country without any preferential deal.
“On the British side, if we have done this deliberately, Johnson will be firing up to get people behind him, it will be full on, a story every day in the press about resisting the humiliation imposed, ‘we are not going to be treated like this by the evil empire’. It will be nasty.”
Johnson’s UK Internal Market Bill, which breaks international law by reneging on parts of the withdrawal agreement, has driven the negotiations into their most serious crisis to date. The EU has made clear that passing the legislation will make a deal impossible but hase stopped short of halting the talks.
“The Europeans are never going to walk because they’re not going to give him that pleasure. If he wants to walk and he wants to pull the plug on the talks, he is going to have to do it himself,” Sir Ivan said.
“I think they will commence infraction proceedings straightaway after the UK fails to meet the September 30th deadline [for the bill to be withdrawn]I don’t think they’ve got much choice. I don’t think it’s wildly helpful. I don’t know whether then Johnson will magnify that as another threat from the European Union, the evil empire. But I think when we fail to withdraw the bill or amend it on the 30th of September, the EU will think it has to do something visible and the [European] Commission will commence infraction proceedings.”
While some in Europe hope that Johnson will make some last-minute concessions before agreeing a deal and declaring victory, Sir Ivan believes it is a mistake to underestimate the depth of the prime minister’s distaste for the European political project.
“I know lots of the commentariat in all countries thinks Johnson has no principles at all. To a degree that’s true but he is a hardline Brexiteer and he wants a divergent mid-Atlantic Brexit, he wants regulatory autonomy and that’s why I think he will back Dominic Cummings’ view on state aid. He is not a classic low tax low spend, Thatcherite Conservative, far from it,” he said.
“Johnson wants the EU ideally to fail: he thinks it’s a wrong turning, not just for the UK but for the whole continent. Cummings wants, I think, a rerun of last year. He wants culture wars, a fight against the House of Lords, against the judiciary. He’s not stupid. He knows that he can’t easily sell a skinny free trade agreement as a triumph and that the British public will see in January and beyond what damage is done to the economy.
“So he is asking: why go there? No deal might be a bit worse, but at least he will be able to portray that as the fault of the EU. The line would be that all we were ever asking for is what they gave to Canada. It’s not true, but it sounds plausible.”