We imagined the first formal encounter of UK PM-to-be, Boris Johnson, and the EU’s Michel Barnier:
|EU||Good morning Prime Minister and congratulations|
|Johnson||Call me Boris… call me Boris. None of this formal stuff. Gets in the way. I’m not like that woman, May. Not a funny bone in her body. She was a bloody difficult woman. Said so herself.|
|EU||I’m sorry Prime Minister. But we here in the EU are a formal organisation. We have to follow the rules. So, Prime Minister it will have to be.|
|Johnson||If you must, you must. Don’t mind if I call you Barny?|
|EU||I would prefer Monsieur Barnier, if you please. We should say that we are aware that over many years you never had anything positive to say about the EU. We have a file of your articles to hand here if you would like us to quote.|
|Johnson||Have it your own way. You frogs were always very formal. I’m only surprised you are not wearing a striped tee-shirt. Ha, ha.
As for those articles, out of context. Just fun. Having a laugh. Even the Telegraph says you can’t take anything I write seriously. I was just ahead of the game with “alternative facts”. Trump told me he learned a lot from me. He also told me to come in here and break up the place. That’s the way to negotiate. Ha, ha.
|EU||Prime Minister, we understand you wish to discuss Brexit with us. You do realise that the Withdrawal Agreement, as agreed with Mrs. May, is closed and cannot be reopened?|
|Johnson||That agreement has been rejected three times by the House of Commons and won’t fly. Dead as a Monty Python parrot.
We must disaggregate it and keep the good bits, get rid of the bad. The backstop thing. We can do a deal. Wrap this up during the afternoon over a cup of tea. Liam Fox told me it could be done. Just needed a bit of bulldog spirit.
|EU||That is not going to be possible. The WA is closed. We will not reopen it or disaggregate it. However, we can certainly discuss the Political Declaration on the future relationship if you see the future differently from Mrs May.|
|Johnson||Come on chaps. Don’t be unreasonable. We can sign off on citizens’ rights and all that. I was terribly upset when Lord Lawson had to leave his chateau in France. I want to see him go back to enjoy his sunset years in bucolic splendour among the vines. In vino veritas and all that. Latin, great language.|
|EU||We are sorry. The WA will not be reopened. There can be no separate deal on citizens’ rights. Of course, we want to see those rights protected in the context of an orderly UK withdrawal from the EU and protected by the European Court as provided for in the WA. But we are not going to do “mini-deals”.|
|Johnson||But I am also prepared to pay the £39bn, hand over the moolah. I’ll sign the cheque here and now. Could someone pass me the UK chequebook and a pen? I’ll make it out to cash if that helps. You can bring it to the Bank of England and they’ll hand over the cash, no questions asked. But hey, if we can’t do a deal I can’t sign the cheque. No moolah, a big hole in your budget.|
|EU||Prime Minister, I think you misunderstand. The £39bn is not a one-off payment. It falls due over many years. Some of it goes to pay the pensions of British citizens who have worked here in the EU. As we see it, the UK has a legal obligation to pay it. If you are not prepared to pay it, then these discussions must come to an end. We might add that if we don’t have a deal then the tariffs that will be imposed on UK goods will go a long way to covering the loss of the €39bn. And, no, we don’t take cash.|
|Johnson||But Moggy says we don’t owe the money. He has a report that was drawn up by the House of Lords which says we don’t. He says you claiming we do is just a pile of piffle on stilts. You are trying it on. You can’t get much clearer than the House of Lords|
|EU||Prime Minister, we have a report prepared by our legal experts which says you do. We’ll take the advice of our experts over the report of the Lords. You have an duty to meet the obligations you committed to. If you don’t meet those obligations then we can go no further. May we remind you the UK is leaving the EU. We just want you to settle your bills before you go. We didn’t ask you to leave.|
|Johnson||What’s this tariff stuff? If we have no deal we’ll be trading with you under the GATT XXIV, whatever you call it 10-year thingy. No tariffs. So you won’t be collecting any tariffs. Hadn’t thought of that, had you?|
|EU||We think you misunderstand GATT XXIV. That only applies if two parties have agreed to negotiate a trade deal. The clue is in the word “agreed”. No agreement, no GATT XXIV, and tariffs apply.|
|Johnson||But we have agreed to negotiate a trade agreement. It is in the Political Declaration. Now, I don’t like what May had suggested. I want one of those super-duper Canada Dry+++ deals. Preferably with gin or vodka, ha, ha.
So, the GATT thingy applies.
|EU||You are quite right Prime Minister. We have committed in the PD to negotiate a trade deal. But the PD comes with the WA. You can’t have one without the other. No WA, no PD. No PD no trade negotiations. No trade negotiations, tariffs apply.|
|Johnson||Can we not agree that if we don’t have the WA we can just go straight into the transition and negotiate a trade deal and apply the GATT thingy while we are doing that. We can also sort out the Irish during the transition. As the Saj suggested, we’ll just spaff them some cash to buy some computers and iPads. They can play FIFA 2020 on them. Keep them busy. Money makes the world go around, that happy clicking sound. Always did it for me as a journo.|
|EU||Prime Minister, again you misunderstand. If there is no WA, there is no transition. The UK leaves the EU with no agreement and no agreement means no transition. You become a third country from the minute you leave. Without a trade deal. As you might put it yourself: crash, bang, wallop.|
|Johnson||But lot of pre-Brexit experts have told me that we can skip the WA and go into a GATT XXIV transition which would be the same as your transition only we don’t have to pay and there would be no backstop. Unlike Govey, I have a lot of respect for experts. They even gave me a plan written by that very clever Singy chap. Brexit, From Here to Eternity, I think it is called. Top notch.|
|EU||Prime Minister. We think there are some misunderstandings here. No WA, no transition of any sort. The transition that the UK government asked for, and that we agreed to, would see the UK leave the EU on the basis of the WA. Then, for two years, maybe four, nothing would change and the UK would continue as if it were an EU member but with no Commissioner, no MEPs and no judge in the European Court. During this transition we could negotiate future arrangements.|
|Johnson||Cripes, does Farage know he won’t be an MEP? Nadine Dorries said she thought it was unfair that we won’t have any MEPs after Brexit. Anything you could do about that? If we have a transition could you not keep them for a few more years? You’d hardly notice them about the place. Farage only ever turns up to collect his expenses and make YouTube speeches.|
|EU||To continue. If, in the absence of a WA, we were to agree to negotiate a trade agreement, which we won’t, and GATT 24 applied, then it would only cover trade in goods. Services would be excluded. Services exports to the EU account for 50% of all UK service exports. Data flows to the UK from the EU would be cut off as you would be outside the scope of the GDPR. Oh, and UK phone companies would e free to apply roaming charges.|
|Johnson||But the ERG says we could do mini-deals on all of these things. Easy-peasy. But look, the only thing standing in the way of a deal is this backstop thing. Now, I tried to talk to the Irish but they wouldn’t talk to me and told me I had to talk to you. I don’t understand them. After all, they are part of the British Isles and we should be able to sort out these things domestically, between us. I’d even let them back into the Commonwealth.|
|EU||Prime Minister, Ireland is a sovereign country, a member of the EU. In the EU we work as a team. Strength in numbers. And we are committed to protecting the vital interests of Ireland, which are also the vital interests of the EU.
The backstop is part of the WA. It underwrites the Good Friday Agreement. It also protects the integrity of our single market. No substandard Chinese good, for example, coming in through the backdoor. Need we remind you that the people of NI voted 56% to 44% to remain in the EU and that two of its three MEPs are pro-remain. And the border issue is about much more than trade, as is North-South cooperation.
And no, no mini-deals.
|Johnson||Yes, I know all that. But if we have the backstop we won’t be able to negotiate trade deals on our own. And if we can’t negotiate trade deals what is little Liam Fox to do? His heart will be broken. Can you not agree that the backstop will only last five years and will then be replaced by alternative arrangements? Whatever they are. We could agree to work hard together to discover them. With something like that I could go back to the Commons. The “Boris Breakthrough” we could call it.|
|EU||We can certainly work together to discover alternative arrangements. That is already in the WA/PD. But what if such arrangements cannot be found? That’s why we have the backstop. And alternative arrangements alone won’t solve the border issue.
And may we remind you that we originally proposed that the backstop only apply to Northern Ireland. It was the UK government that asked us to apply it to the whole of the UK. We reluctantly agreed. The backstop stays.
|Johnson||No deal it is then. No payment and no backstop. Can we agree to immediately open negotiations on a trade deal after we leave?|
|EU||Certainly. We can begin preparations today. But we will only open such negotiations after we have reached an agreement on your outstanding financial obligations, citizens’ rights and the backstop. We can call it an “exit package” as opposed to a Withdrawal Agreement if that helps. And, of course, there will be no transition. May we ask if there is now a majority in the Commons for no-deal”|
|EU||Certainly. After you have fixed your bills….|
|Johnson||You said we asked for the backstop to be extended to the whole of the UK? Yes? What if we changed our minds and agreed that the backstop only applied to NI?|
|EU||That would not be a problem for us. We would not regard that as reopening the WA but as the UK withdrawing a request.|
|Johnson||So, I could go home and say that I had gotten rid of the backstop and that we are free to negotiate our own trade deals but that we will have to make special provisions for NI, which most people in NI want anyway, that we have agreed that there is no one-off payment of £39bn, the money is phased, citizens’ rights are guaranteed and we get a transition to negotiate a super-duper Canada+++ trade agreement.
So, it’s the “Boris Breakthrough” or a general election as the Commons won’t agree to no-deal. And a general election could mean I would no longer be Prime Minister. Something I am entitled to be.
Fox was right. We could sort it out over tea in an afternoon.
|EU||Yes, Prime Minister|
4 thoughts on “#BorisJohnson goes to #Brussels – A #Brexit parody”
You have to laugh, or you’d cry..
It’s still completely baffling to me that a group of around 100.000-odd relatively sober people are leading the country down this path. Tory party members, whatever one might think of them otherwise – and judging by the poll showing they’d sacrifice almost anything to attain their Brexit Holy Grail, one would be justified in thinking many things – are not generally known for wild excess and irresponsible behaviour. So how can they be seriously contemplating giving the most important job in the country to someone who appears so desperately not on top of the facts as this person. The – quite brilliant – blog above is billed as parody, but it’s actually frightening how extremely easy it is to imagine that very same scenario as reality, where Alexander “Gatt 24 or whatever it happens to be” Johnson is subjected to a crash course on the legal ins and outs of Brexit on first arriving in Brussels as newly minted PM.
What also seems completely true to life is the utter lack of any sense of embarrassment over not being au fait with all those “boring technicalities”, even though he was the individual, more than anyone else, who was the decisive factor in tipping the balance towards Leave. The negative charisma of Gove was never going to swing it, whereas many decent people who voted to leave would have been put off by the more blatantly xenophobic appeal of Farage. Johnson’s attitude appears to be that of a person who has never in his life been inconvenienced by the consequences of his irresponsible actions.
So, what would the “Boris Breakthrough” – you could really see him going for a name like that – lead to? It would leave NI as a de-facto member of the EU, which many there would probably regard as a good thing, although a hard border in the Irish Sea might pose new problems to others.. A re-ignition of sectarian violence as a result of a hard border on the island or Ireland itself would probably be avoided. From there, of course, the step towards reunification becomes smaller, something the DUP won’t be happy about. Scotland would feel entitled to have its own shot at becoming a member of the EU in its own right, and therefore would go for Indyref II.
Johnson certainly seems sufficiently without moral scruple to be entirely flexible about betraying the DUP. And it would open up a new route to arrive at a “meaningful” Brexit, provided sufficient numbers of Labour MP’s can be found to support it. I.e. a Brexit, as the unnamed Tory MP cited in one of the comments on last week’s blog summarised the dreams of many Leave voters, that was noticeably different from the current situation. Again, what’s frightening there, is that the person cited must have been aware (or should have been anyway, or they’d have no business voting to invoke art. 50) that any Brexit answering to that description would leave the country materially worse off along many dimensions, and would probably leave the UK in pieces. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t recall that ever being mentioned by any of its proponents. Would it really have been the noticeable difference Tory leave-voters had in mind in the confines of the ballot box?
Obviously, unless the many pluses in the Canada +++ construction combined into membership of the Single Market (“The four freedoms come as a package and are indivisible, as surely you would know being the Former Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson”), the City as well as imports and exports from England to and from the EU (even more important after the loss of any oil revenues from Scotland) would be materially affected. And of course as PM, Johnson would no longer just have to worry about keeping the owners of the Telegraph happy. I do believe the “f*** business” comment was only ever a slightly pathetic display of machismo, not a reflection of his true instincts. If it was, he may well find himself f***-ed over by business.
In short, unless he keeps the situation pretty much as it is, he’s likely to go down as the most hapless Premier the country has ever known. And given recent history, that’s saying something.. He may know this, he may not. The fact that he’s still a candidate blustering about No Deal suggests he may not.
It strikes me that in that case, in Johnson, the country would have the most appropriate person possible as PM. Muddled thinking made flesh.
I love the parody. And the paradoxical conclusion is spot on. If Boris abandons the DUP he has a deal. He could also get enough dissenting votes from Labour (or a secret alliance with Corbyn) to pull it off. He would probably have to promise a GE to get that breakthrough, but the man is so sure of his own destiny that he would agree.
I always find your posts enjoyable and thought-provoking, and this one is no exception. It may be almost eerily prescient. Just one thought. It seems to me that the non-binding and very vague reference to an FTA in the PD might not be enough to engage GATT XXIV. The relevant bit is the words from Art. XXIV para 5 that I’ve put in bold: “the provisions of this Agreement shall not prevent, as between the territories of contracting parties, the formation of a customs union or of a free-trade area or the adoption of an interim agreement necessary for the formation of a customs union or of a free-trade area; Provided that:… (b) with respect to a free-trade area, or an interim agreement leading to the formation of a free-trade area, the duties and other regulations of commerce maintained in each of the constituent territories and applicable at the formation of such free–trade area or the adoption of such interim agreement to the trade of contracting parties not included in such area or not parties to such agreement shall not be higher or more restrictive than the corresponding duties and other regulations of commerce existing in the same constituent territories prior to the formation of the free-trade area, or interim agreement as the case may be; and (c) any interim agreement referred to in subparagraphs (a) and (b) shall include a plan and schedule for the formation of such a customs union or of such a free-trade area within a reasonable length of time. The PD is only a non-binding expression of intent, which does not include either a plan or schedule for the formation of a free-trade area, let alone any time planning. Consequently I do not think that, even if the WA/PD were accepted by Parliament, this arrangement would quality under GATT XXIV. But at this point, this may be the least of our problems! Best regards, Kathy Love
The way I understand it is that by voting through the WA, the “implementation period” begged for by Mrs May is formalised and will run for two years. This favour was granted by the EU as it was in its interest as well as the UK’s to have any realignment of established trade relations happen over an extended period of time. The implementation period was needed so the UK had sufficient time to prepare for an orderly transition, incorporating the necessary negotiations, from EU member state to third country in possession of a fully negotiated FTA with the EU. Technically, it has been running since the end of March, which means all the present dithering is eating into a span of negotiation time that, even at a full two years, was considered to be worryingly short by many (though not of course by David Davis or Liam Fox).
This two-year window is a standstill period agreed between the EU and the UK, keeping the UK on the present terms and conditions regarding its rights and obligations (tariff- and otherwise) towards the EU while the FTA roughly outlined in the PD takes its definitive shape. It would therefore, in my view, obviate the need to rely on GATT XXIV in the trade relationship between the UK and the EU.
Theoretically, I guess, which is an interesting point you raise, it might be possible for wider-world exporters to demand access to the UK’s market for their goods – for instance – on a tariff-free basis while the UK’s status is suspended Schrödinger-like between membership and non-membership. I can’t see many interested parties going through the arduous and long-winded adjudication process of the WTO just on the off chance, though.
But part of the difficulty where a WTO solution is bandied about is that the UK would be going through the GATT XXIV process “backwards” as it were. It’s like using wedding vows in order to finalise a divorce.
I’m sure “Boris” has all the answers, though, as nobody would advocate solutions like this for the country without fully knowing what they were talking about. This is what our elected representatives are for, surely?