Home / UK / Michel Barnier says Johnson must decide if UK wants deal or not – The Guardian

Michel Barnier says Johnson must decide if UK wants deal or not – The Guardian

Michel Barnier has said he is unsure of the substance of Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan and the “clever” new prime minister must now decide whether to try to seal a deal or let Britain crash out.

Speaking on Johnson’s first day in office, the EU’s chief negotiator said it was “a very important moment for Brexit”, with the UK due to leave the bloc with or without a deal in just three months.

“We look forward to hearing what the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, wants, what are the choices of the UK,” Barnier said, after his own consultations with the European parliament on the new British leadership.

“Is it an orderly Brexit? … Is it a no-deal Brexit? The no-deal Brexit will never be the choice of the EU, but we are prepared and for an orderly Brexit. We will work along the next few weeks or months with the new UK government in the best possible way, in the very constructive spirit to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement.”

Quick guide

Boris Johnson’s to-do list

The first task of any new PM involves rewarding some loyal allies and disappointing more. Several Johnson loyalists have had their eye on the post of chancellor, but only one can do it. A complete clearout of May’s remain-minded ministers is expected.

The issue that will define a Johnson premiership. He has promised to rapidly renegotiate almost all of May’s departure deal, ditching the Irish backstop border guarantee policy – something that would seem a huge task over any timescale, let alone little more than 12 weeks, a fair proportion of which is taken up by a summer break. If this fails, he will be set on a no-deal departure for 31 October, and a likely huge clash with MPs.  

If Brexit wasn’t enough, a new Johnson government must immediately take steps to make sure he doesn’t begin his time in No 10 with a slide into war. The situation in the gulf is complex, fast-moving and hugely dangerous. Johnson did not cover himself in glory as foreign secretary, especially over Iran. It will be his task to prove he has learned.

Johnson will start as PM with a working Commons majority of four, thanks to the DUP, but within weeks it is likely to be down to three if as expected the Liberal Democrats win in the Brecon and Radnorshire byelection. If this wasn’t tricky enough, a small but significant section of Tory MPs openly detest Johnson, and will not want to help him out.

Such has been the fiscal largesse on display from both Johnson and Jeremy Hunt during the hustings process that much as he will seek to kick any decisions towards an autumn budget, voters – especially Tory members – will be expecting both tax cuts and more spending on areas such as education and the police.

This might sound glib, but there is a lot to consider – during the three-plus years of Brexit introversion May’s government failed to properly grasp any of a series of long-term, pressing national problems: the crisis in social care; the future of the NHS; a climate emergency; the increasingly insecure future of work; a broken housing market; rampant poverty, including among many working people. This is a huge workload for any new administration.

Critics might say this is Johnson’s single biggest challenge. The leadership process has shown that while he endlessly harked back to supposed successes as London mayor – an often ceremonial role with relatively few powers – Johnson was notably quieter about his period as foreign secretary.

Being prime minister is like the latter, to a factor of 10 – a never-ending succession of red boxes containing vital documents, of urgent briefings, of a whole system hanging on your decisions. Johnson has a tendency to ignore advice, pluck statistics out of the air and rely on sudden, cheap glibness. Curbing these long habits will be a daily struggle.

Peter Walker Political correspondent

Asked whether he knew what Johnson would seek from Brussels, Barnier said: “No. We are ready to listen and to work with him in a constructive way. We will wait for the new decision, the new declarations of the UK government.

“I met Boris Johnson once. We spoke once in the past. It was a very particular moment during the opening ceremony of the Olympics of London, fantastic games, so we are waiting now. We will work, we are ready, we will work. I think he is clever. I’m at the disposal of the union. We are ready to work [in August].”

Johnson has said he wants to scrap the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement and hold back on paying the UK’s multibillion-pound financial settlement until a free trade deal is agreed. He has warned the UK must leave the EU by 31 October with or without a deal.

Earlier in the day, the European parliament’s Brexit steering group held an “extraordinary meeting” to discuss the developments in London.

A statement from the MEPs, led by the former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, warned that recent comments “not least those made during the Conservative party leadership campaign, have greatly increased the risk of a disorderly exit of the UK”.

Verhofstadt told reporters the EU would not countenance a fresh negotiation on arrangements to replicate key aspects of the withdrawal agreement and cushion the impact of a no-deal Brexit. The EU insists that a stand-still transition period will only be granted if the withdrawal agreement, including the contentious backstop, is ratified by parliament.

Verhofstadt said: “Politicised language from the Conservative leadership raising the spectre of a no-deal Brexit is unhelpful, irresponsible and only increases the risks of a catastrophic severance, which could destabilise the global economy.

“We are united in the view that a no-deal exit will not be mitigated by any form of arrangements or mini-deals between the EU and the UK.

“Boris Johnson will find the European parliament an open and constructive partner. I look forward to alleviating Mr Johnson’s concerns regarding the imminent accession of Turkey to the EU, following the claims of the leave campaign, whilst explaining the EU has no rules on the packaging of kippers in the UK.”

Boris Johnson blames EU for kipper rules that are British – video

Michel Barnier says Johnson must decide if UK wants deal or not – The Guardian

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