As May steps aside, rival Boris Johnson makes his Brexit pitch

  • May 25, 2019
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  • 3 min read

As Prime Minister Theresa May finally succumbed to the pressure to step aside as leader of the Conservative Party, she had a message to whoever succeeds her: you will have to compromise.

It’s a lesson she learned the hard way after seeing her version of Brexit shot down three times in a deeply divided and increasingly polarized Parliament. Her entire three-year time in office was consumed by the seemingly impossible task of delivering upon a 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union.

“To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not,” she told television cameras outside her 10 Downing Street residence. “Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise.” Compromise, she said, is “not a dirty word.”

Hours after May said she was resigning, a top contender for her job was already making his Brexit pitch and was choosing to keep the no-deal option that markets fear on the table.

“The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no-deal situation,” former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a conference in Interlaken, Switzerland. “To get things done you need to be prepared to walk away.”

Johnson, the face of the referendum campaign who is popular with Brexit hardliners, used the speech to set out what his negotiating strategy would be were he to become prime minister. Investors are paying attention because he’s so far the bookmakers’ front-runner to win the leadership race that’s just getting started.

But while he is the favorite for now — Tory leadership races are wildly unpredictable. The race takes a couple of months, and there’s plenty of time for an upset. In fact, he stumbled the last time there was a contest, and May emerged as the winner.

Historically, those who start the race ahead often lose. Still, Johnson has some high-profile allies already and has the biggest war chest.

Johnson said he would prepare for no-deal, go back to Brussels to renegotiate the toxic Irish backstop, and make clear that he’s prepared to leave without a deal if the EU says no. He said he believes the U.K. will leave the EU on Oct. 31 — the latest deadline — with or without a deal.

He has long indicated that he’d be willing to pull the U.K. out of the bloc without a deal and has criticized May for surrendering to the EU. That has spooked markets, and the pound has weakened on concerns that a hardliner would pursue a no-deal exit.

Johnson’s other tactic is to get Parliament to rule out the possibility of canceling Brexit — an option the U.K. legally has. That would make the threat of no-deal more credible, and could concentrate minds in the EU, where some officials continue to hope that the U.K. might change its mind.

The EU has repeatedly said it won’t reopen the divorce deal and won’t change the Irish backstop. It’s the most contentious part of the agreement as it potentially keeps the U.K. bound the EU rules indefinitely and treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the country. Johnson noted that a majority in the Parliament has voted to renegotiate the backstop.

As for a second referendum, Johnson thinks it’s a very bad idea. “Put Brexit to bed, pacify this bawling that’s been going on for so long,” he said.Courtesy:The Peninsula