Brexit and the new Prime Minister

24th July 2019

Today there should be a new Prime Minister.

The new Prime Minister is a person about whom many (including me) have Very Strong Opinions.

But regardless of the character and personality of the new Prime Minister, what can usefully be said about the appointment and Brexit?

The United Kingdom continues to be a full member of the European Union.

That membership, however, is set to end on 31st October 2019, just under one hundred days away, by automatic operation of law.

This departure from the European Union can be delayed or averted, but only if one of three things happen.


First, there could be a further extension.  There has already been two.  When the current extension was granted, the United Kingdom was warned not to waste time.

The United Kingdom, however, has wasted time.  There has been no real preparation for “no deal” and the deal on offer has made no further progress.

The governing party has been preoccupied with a leadership election, as have the political and media classes generally.

An extension required unanimous support from the twenty-eight member states.

In theory, say, Malta or Cyprus could even say no, and that would be enough for there to be no extension.

And unless there is a good reason, the United Kingdom may not get another extension, especially given how it has wasted this one.


Second, there could be a deal which provides for a new departure date.

This would require revisiting the draft agreement and perhaps converting the current transition period to a limited period of further membership (and this would solve a range of technical problems).

There could even be an agreement for continued membership until a future relationship agreement was in place (and this would address the backstop problem sensibly).

But again, this is not in the gift of the United Kingdom. 


Third, there is revocation.

A sensible government acting in the public interest (ho, ho) would revoke Article 50 and accept the current exercise is botched.

Brexit-supporters should be told to come back with a better plan.

This, of course, is unlikely but it is the only exception to departure on Hallowe’en which is in the United Kingdom’s gift.

The new Prime Minister would not want to revoke the process – but it is the only way to “stop a No Deal Brexit” which is entirely within the control of the United Kingdom.


The options above would be the same for any new Prime Minister.

The character and personality of the new Prime Minister will distract many for a while, but the structure of the current situation will continue to be the same.

As it stands, the prospect of a No Deal Brexit on 31st October 2019 is a real one – an outcome in my view which is more likely than not.

The other outcomes require support from the European Union or a revocation decision.  These outcomes are possible, but there is reason to doubt each one will now happen.


Thank you for reading me on this new(ish) blog, where I am hoping to blog regularly.

I expect to be blogging here more often, instead of spending time on Twitter.

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Comments are welcome but pre-moderated, and they will not be published if irksome.







16 thoughts on “Brexit and the new Prime Minister”

  1. Succinct as ever. If there has ever been a politician who could avoid being skewered by their principals, it is Johnson. I suspect his main plan was to say and do whatever he needed to get the top job. Now on to the next stage which will be retaining it. Brexit may be a sacrifice he considers worth making.

  2. There are 4 options : 1. A further extension 2. A deal 3. Revocation and 4. Do nothing & allow Oct. 31 to pass and achieve no deal on Nov. 1.
    Question : Will Parliament be able to stop 4. happening?

    1. I have a question for my learned friends about the Good Friday Agreement – with the weight given to consent of both the Irish and the British identifying sections of the population in the Belfast Agreement, does that no render a No Deal Brexit illegal as it would go against the spirit and the letter of the GFA which predates Article 50? In short, my question is, on 00.00 hours on 01.11.19 without a deal with a backstop that satisfies the requirements of the GFA, doesn’t Article 50 render itself illegal and non-implementable at the point at which it would come into force, effectively revoking itself? At least until consensus was sought and found from the people of NI? And if not, why not, as there is so much emphasis on the consensus of those communities to any changes in their status? Thanks for reading! :)

    2. I have read this opinion article that suggests after the current extension period if no further extension is sought and no specific deal or no deal is supported by an act of Parliament, Article 50 would lapse. This sounds a credible scenario but I admit a little hard for me to follow.

  3. Good succinct summary, thank you.

    In relation to the second option, would it not be possible, and in the gift of the UK, to sign the existing withdrawal agreement? Of course there would be howls of outrage but these could perhaps be muted by adding a few more pages to the existing 26 pages of waffle (the so-called “political declaration”). Yes we would be a vassal state for a few years but at least the exit would be less disorderly.

  4. Hi David – pretty much agree (we won’t ask or get another extension and there won’t be a majority in parliament for Revoke this year) – however I think there might be a version of point 2 that you’ve overlooked.

    Johnson wants to be seen as – and win as – the PM who delivered and made a success of Brexit – winning is everything – he won’t risk defeat. That means he won’t opt for GE without delivering Brexit first – he would be crucified by Brexit Party and Lib Dems because he would lack a coherent, believable offer (particularly against their stark choices of either No Deal or Remain).

    (Labour is bluffing about wanting a GE for exactly the same reason – they think they need to be seen to deliver Brexit to neuter BxP, which they believe threatens them more than LDs – despite many pointing out they may be wrong.)

    My hunch – he will got to Europe and ask for modification to Political Declaration on Future Relationship – this will be to give us more flexibility. Will also ask for longer transition – perhaps 5-7 years – still out but nominally in – time for business to adjust – time for him to negotiate future relationship (he could say he agreed this transition under GATT XXIV !!).

    On Backstop: will agree that England, Scotland and Wales can unilaterally withdraw on conclusion of future relationship but NI will remain in, if new deal doesn’t solve the border issue. I know that is dumping on the DUP but few will mind (many in Northern Ireland would be delighted) and it won’t bring him down instantly (he can cling on with minority for a while under Fixed Term Parliament Act).

    He will then return ‘triumphant’ with a ‘new Boris Deal’ – he can sell this to MPs who fear No Deal as ‘this is the best you will get’ – there is no further extension, it’s this or no deal. He can sell increased flexibility in political declaration as opening up possibility of ‘jobs first brexit’ for Labour MPs (something they can sell to their voters) and EEA/EFTA for moderate Tories.

    He will get enough MPs to finally cave before 31 Oct. We will leave then. The Remain movement will be neutered (unless it rapidly moves to Return but not sure how convincing that is – many may decide to give up for a quiet life) – as will most of BxP (though hard liners will cry betrayal – not sure rank and file are so animated).

    He will then call spring 2020 GE – asking for country to back him “the PM who delivers” to negotiate a shiny new relationship – perhaps more EEA/EFTA aligned than currently sketched in political declaration – out of EU but still economically close (perhaps even ‘influential’ in EFTA – perhaps even offer freedom of movement to win over former Remainers).

    He might even win. (I am not a supporter!)

    (See also my recent tweets on this idea @HuwSayer).

  5. Common sense would suggest that the Brexiteers should revoke Article 50 pro tem while they prepare terms that all can agree before invoking the Article again.
    Democracy is for all the people. It is not winner-takes-all; that is merely mob rule. Mr Johnson seems a typical mob leader.

  6. I am grateful for your blog, which I follow with great interest – and respect.

    But in this instance I am (seriously) hopeful that his proven incompetence, idleness & inability to cope with detail will ensure that he whom we laughingly refer to as ‘the new prime minister’ will have uterly shot his bolt well before the completion of 100-days.

    Time will tell, I have everything crossed.

  7. Those three options are probably the only three realistic ones. Another could be an exit with no deal before 31 October, with the new PM claiming that demonstrated control by the UK, rather than an exit ‘forced’ upon the UK as a ‘punishment’ by the EU. This may seem a remote possibility, but with the prospect of Cummings as an advisor anything could happen.

    It is entirely possible that the transition in the EU’s top team, coincident with an effective change of UK Government, would be used as a basis for an extension that no member states would find unreasonable.

    My favoured, perhaps dream, option will in fact be rapid revocation of our A50 Notification and remain. Johnson, Cummings, Gove and other key members of the Downing Street and Cabinet teams who were also key members of Vote Leave will compare what they promised in 2015-16 to what has been done by the May Government and use that comparison as the justification for a ‘new beginning’ with the EU. Naturally, that will only work if the early tone of the new EU top team changes!

    It’s going to be a long hot Summer.

  8. The text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration were both published by the EU and HMG on 14 November 2018. Since then I have not seen in any paper (not even in the FT) any clause by clause or article by article comment as to what is right or wrong with either except for the backstop. Having read the part on citizens in the EU and v.v., I found it deeply unsatisfying and it fails to deal with some pretty obvious problems. The context here is I own an upland farm or smallholding on a Greek border island and I want “fair” treatment from a rapacious Greek Government and their bureaucracy. Nothing!

    So if I were Boris, I would hire a team of lawyers to dissect and publicly proclaim just how unfair and biased the clauses and articles were (whether they are or not is subject to that research!).

    As I read the scrutiny of the enabling legislation in the House of Commons our MPs have not read the Withdrawal Agreement at all! They are terminally lazy.

    Megalochoriman .

  9. There is a danger of over-thinking this: Mr Johnson means to exit the EU on 31st October without a withdrawal treaty in place.

    He has effectively dared his opponents to do their worst.

    Which, I guess, implies an early General Election.

  10. I worry that Johnson’s master in the White House and his master’s master in the Kremlin would like to destroy the EU altogether.

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