Shortly after the 2015 General Election, I received a note from Boris Johnson which read:
“I don’t know what effect all that fish has had on your brain, but you seem to be the only person who correctly forecast the outcome.”
My prediction had been published in my local newspaper and had included not only the view that David Cameron would emerge triumphant, but also the implications for the voteshare of the other parties. It couldn’t have been more accurate if it had been written after the results had been announced. I predicted a Trump presidency before The Donald secured the Republican nomination and was convinced of a referendum Leave win even though Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage had either gone to bed or assumed defeat in the early hours of 24th June 2016.
That doesn’t mean my forecasts are always spot on. I thought it was a wise move for Theresa May to call an election in 2017 and assumed she would win a runaway victory. But that was before her disastrous campaign.
It’s not therefore surprising that I am asked on a regular basis what I think will happen now – especially from those who assume that, as an MEP, I have special insights. I don’t.
I have always believed common sense will prevail and that in the final crunch negotiations a workable compromise will emerge which both sides can sell to their constituents. Politicians are risk averse and whilst I, as a businessman (and not a politician seeking re-election), would be relaxed about No Deal (aka a ‘Clean Break’), I cannot see our MPs or indeed European leaders countenancing such an outcome. After all, from a European perspective, if we did leave with ‘No Deal’ and then thrived outside, wouldn’t that send an awkward message to any EU member state which may contemplate departure at some future time? The EU needs to be seen to punish us in an unequivocal way. £39 billion is a harsh penalty – equating to £1,500 for every family in the UK.
In the UK we have been fixated by Brexit since the referendum, but for Europeans it hasn’t been topping the news agenda – merely simmering on low heat in the background. But as the deadline approaches, European exporters to the UK will be considering ever more closely the risk of losing access to their biggest European market, as well as competition from the rest of the world. There is no doubt they will have been increasing the pressure on their governments as the Brexit deadline approaches. That is another reason why the EU will not risk No Deal. Germany’s ever weakening economy emphasises this risk.
The EU have tied us up in knots for three years over Ireland, but this was always a hoax. Like an extra unnecessary request on a planning application, which can easily be sacrificed in order to demonstrate compromise, the backstop was never a serious obstacle to two parties wishing to reach an agreement. Both sides claim to want a free trade deal, as set out in the draft Political Declaration. With this in place, there will be no need for a border; in any event, no one will be building one should No Deal transpire.
So from an EU perspective, they don’t want No Deal, and would be enthusiastic to extend, as this provides hope that at some future point Brits may change their minds. But it is more likely that they have reached the correct conclusion which is that British voters are fed up and simply want to get Brexit done now. Support for EU membership in the UK is not undergoing a renaissance, so it’s time for pragmatism. Better for the EU to do a deal whilst Parliament is sympathetic to the EU than at a later time when the parliamentary maths is likely to be less favourable.
Brexit on Amazon
Boris’s charm and determination has drawn the EU into ‘the tunnel’ and it was crucial that he persuade them in. Negotiating successfully in public, with media commentary on every move, is an impossibility – for both sides – and one of the reasons we have so far failed. I don’t believe the EU would have entered the tunnel if they didn’t see a glimmer of light at the end of it, which was not an oncoming train. Prediction One therefore is that the EU and the UK Government will find a mutually-acceptable deal.
The question that follows is whether this will be acceptable to the UK Parliament.
From a Lib Dem perspective, nothing will be acceptable bar revocation, so any support from that direction is easy to dismiss. The same goes for the SNP. Labour’s position is more intriguing. On the one hand, if Boris gets his deal through, he will be the hero of the moment and why, if you’re a Labour MP, would you vote to make Boris a hero? On the other hand, if they don’t vote for the deal, their constituents – especially in the North – will be furious at the continued delay, and could punish the party heavily at the ensuing election. Labour MPs know they stand little or no chance of winning the upcoming election with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, so better to get Brexit done and dusted as soon as possible, force a Corbyn resignation and start afresh with a new leader. I believe a critical mass of Labour MPs will be tempted to vote with the Government – sufficient to see the deal through.
For (ex) Tory MPs, there will be some hardline Remainers, like Dominic Grieve, who will never be able to vote for a deal which means we are actually leaving, but I believe this time around most of the European Research Group will fall into line.
From a Brexit Party perspective – which doesn’t wield a parliamentary vote – it’s hard to know how far Boris will push in terms of scrapping the Political Declaration. Even with the backstop removed, there is much that is wrong with the Theresa May–Michel Barnier deal: ECJ supremacy, defence commitments, fishing rights, financial liabilities, to name but a few. Boris has been vocal on these and said he wishes to make changes, so the question is whether we trust him.
Personally, I do. Boris has dreamt of becoming Prime Minister since childhood. People with his drive, ambition and positivity don’t switch off once they reach the top; they are determined to leave a legacy. I don’t believe Brexit in name only or vassal-statism is acceptable to Boris. He knows it will weaken him and risk humiliation at the next election. If he hadn’t become PM yet, he would be more risk averse; but now he’s in Downing Street, he is ‘on a roll’ and can afford to be more bullish in his demands.
Prediction Two therefore is that Boris will get the deal through Parliament and we will be leaving on 31st October. We will be committed to the £39 billion and we Brexiteers won’t have everything we hope for; but it will be a deal we can live with, which can’t be said of the one presented by Boris’s predecessor. My Champagne is on ice.