Parliament has fallen quiet, but elsewhere we can imagine decorators rushing around with flowers, curtains being put up, horses moving around and a scene of heightened activity as the country prepares for an historic day.
Boris Johnson has effectively dropped any pretenses, as has the country. MPs are vying for positions, the media is full of speculation. Who will get the top job? Who will rise and who will fall.
With polls continuing to show Boris the blond is in clear landslide lead, Britain is now in a situation where it has a defacto Prime Minister, but who knows, grandmas might shock.
And thus the biggest question. Will he really take UK out with no deal? Will Macron give him a push: voila, (muttering) good riddance? Will Merkel step back or like a loving grandmother, accommodate and accommodate?
A hero to those who think Europe must unite as that’s the only way it can be sovereign, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, may well think Boris is a very great gift with some dangers.
A local paper, referring to Macron’s push for no extension or a short extension in March, says:
“Why did Macron take a hard line? He gave three reasons.
First, a lengthy extension of British in-out membership could damage EU institutions and derail his own hopes of turning debate in Europe towards other pressing problems (migration, China, the US, the rise of anti-EU populism).
Second, that the EU 27 should not be seen to be undermining the democratic vote of a majority of the British people to leave the EU in June 2016.
Third, that the “unity” of the EU-27 must be preserved.”
On that question of potentially damaging EU institutions, Macron said this June of Theresa May, effectively the former Prime Minister:
“She never stood in the way of Europe. We sometimes disagreed but she never took the discussions on the future of Europe hostage.
I do not know who will come next but I hope it will be the same sense of respect and seriousness that she had.”
Merkle worked hard to give Britain an extension until the 31st of October, but as Boris keeps mentioning, that’s because Brits buy many German cars, importing 14% ($89 billion) from Germany out of all imports (buying) while exporting 11% ($46 billion).
That’s a huge trade disbalance, but with France there’s hardly any, about $37 billion both ways. Likewise with USA, about $59 billion both ways.
So France does not necessarily care economically whether UK leaves or not or whether it imposes tariffs and so on, but it may see opportunities to take some of Britain’s economy.
In addition, Macron probably sees Britain, and especially Boris, as meddling in the internal affairs of Europe only to break it up in a divide and conquer manner. Hence his predecessor, Charles De Gaulle, stood out against UK’s membership in 1963 and 1967.
So while Boris would probably be very happy to meet Merkle and probably even bluster, in Macron he’ll have his match.
The Nationalist Boris vs the Internationalist Macron
Boris’ plan is somewhat simple. He wants his cake and eat it too. He wants all the good bits, but not those other bits.
He probably likes the fact there’s a massive trading block with which UK can strike a deal for the free flow of goods. He’d probably also want passporting, the free flow of services, access to scientific and academic EU institutions, access maybe to even intelligence sharing, military cooperation, but no obligations.
The internationalist, on the other hand, may well want to make it as difficult for the nationalist as possible so that support for nationalism as a whole continues to drop.
The very astute Macron may further see plenty of opportunities both in attracting British and international businesses to move to Europe and in kicking out meddling UK. Opening the way for a Great United Europe.
Meaning the 31st of October deadline is probably an actual deadline. Likewise, chances of a no deal Brexit are now very real and perhaps it is even likely as there might not be many ways to square this circle.
In that case, Boris may well be stuck with another nationalist, Donald Trump, courting criticism of going from a sovereign in a round table, to a governor in yet another US state.
In addition, a no deal exit would cause many complications, leading to a further surge for remain, probably a vote of no confidence, a general election, and Boris may even win it again unless by some miracle Libdems rise to power.
So the real thinking of Macron, if he does want UK out, must be to give them the bare minimis to just get rid of them, rather than to provoke a potential rethink in UK.
On the other hand, Europe’s budget has a $12 billion yearly shortfall due to UK’s exit. So if you are Macron you may well think of kick them out with no deal so that no one ever thinks about leaving again, go into some marketing blitz to lure UK businesses, and if UK changes its mind in a confirmatory referendum, well that’s just as good because Europe now has a bigger budget and no one will think about leaving again in that case either because who on earth would want to go through that to just return.
If that’s the thinking in France of either the backstop – as in a deal designed for UK to reject – or no deal, then Boris may well have no chance of coming back with anything from Brussels. In that case the May in trousers saying may well take a very different meaning.
Whatever he comes back with, and especially if he comes back with nothing, he will have to call a general election or there would be defections within his own party that collapse the government due to its tiny majority.
That election will effectively be the second referendum. There may be other promises, but no one would care about anything else than Libdem – and now maybe even Labour – in or Boris out.
That election would be a very close call because Britain is divided pretty much 50:50, but the chances of a no deal exit have never been higher.
Boris might even suspend democracy to get it through. One in a million chance, he says, but there’s a chance.
Maybe even a real chance because the negotiation over whether the backstop is first or the trade deal is first isn’t some technicality.
From Europe’s perspective, if UK already has effectively a trade deal while the actual trade deal is negotiated, then UK would be in a stronger position when it comes to the horse trading because UK would have already secured pretty much what it wants.
While if instead there’s a backstop, there would be more bargaining power on both sides because nothing has been agreed yet and nothing is being enjoyed.
So the only option may well be no deal or remain, but just what will go down in Brussels remains to be seen.
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