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Friday 13th: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Paul Niland explores the lurking horror of a Johnson majority government for British jobs, the economy and the other pitfalls of his murky Brexit plans.

Paul Niland explores the lurking horror of a Boris Johnson majority government for British jobs, the economy and the other pitfalls of his murky Brexit plans.

You’ve woken up the morning after Britain’s third General Election in four years and Boris Johnson has pulled off the result he wanted. The Conservatives have an absolute majority, no coalition is needed, no partners such as the DUP requiring a billion pounds to add their votes to prop up the Government are sought out. So, what’s next?

Well, Brexit, obviously.

Johnson is going to take his majority as a mandate for Brexit, no ifs and no buts (this time) and no going back. The UK will be leaving the EU and the Prime Minister will “get Brexit done”, as he has promised throughout his campaign.

The reason, of course, why Brexit didn’t happen last time he promised it would – and why he asked for the extension he said he’d “die in a ditch” before requesting – is because Parliament asked for more than 24 hours to examine the details of the Brexit deal he had agreed with the EU.

Now, with the Conservatives enjoying a majority in Parliament on their own, there will be no problem with getting Johnson’s deal passed, or with any kind of pesky oversight, because they have the votes.

Whatever devils are buried in the detail, they won’t see the light of day as the UK makes a rapid exit from the EU.

Oven-Ready Deception

The next thing that will happen is that, having left the EU, the British public are going to get something of a shock, because that’s when they’re going to learn that Brexit is not, in fact, done. Actually, it has only just started.

When Johnson promised to “get Brexit done” time and time again during the General Election campaign, he was lying. Despite the recent debate, expressed most pointedly by the BBC, as to whether it is proper to call the Prime Minister a “liar”, we know that a lie is an intentional act of deceit. And, as Johnson knows, Brexit is not “done” with the withdrawal agreement. It is a lie and he a liar.

Brexit will not be done – as in this matter is closed, thankfully, because everyone is sick and tired of it – because (as Johnson knows) the UK actually does need some form of trade relationship with the EU. It is right there on its doorstep: four decades of deepening cooperation and the increased ability to trade freely with those neighbouring countries means that the UK’s economy is deeply tied to the EU’s.

The massive volume of trade between the UK and the EU (representing 45% of all UK exports, for example) needs to be continued according to some kind of framework. So the reality facing the UK over the next year is that a deal has to be done.

Johnson has told the British electorate that he has a Brexit deal “oven-ready”. That’s also a gross misrepresentation. The withdrawal agreement (which Johnson has now denied leaves Northern Ireland in a different regulatory environment from the rest of Britain) is not a trade deal.

In the Dark

Johnson and various of his ministers have also made light of the process of getting a trade deal with the EU. This may not be deliberate dishonesty, but a lack of knowledge or wishful thinking. But let’s look back.

In 2016, Johnson and others who were selling Brexit to voters said it would be “the easiest deal in history” which could be “done in an afternoon over a cup of tea”. A key part of the misrepresentation about how easy a future UK-EU trade deal would be is that this is a unique situation because the UK and the EU are presently aligned in terms of law and regulations. Most trade deals involve an increasing alignment and that is why they take time to negotiate, because the degree of that alignment is a matter of negotiation and the wishes and realities of the parties involved are being haggled and balanced.

Brexit, though, is different. It involves a negotiation on how far the parties are going to be distanced. That is what is at the heart of it. If there was any hint of what the degree of separation would be and just how far the parties will be moving apart after the divorce, it might become somewhat easier to make predictions about how easy reaching a deal might be. But there is not. Everyone is in the dark about this. The Government has made no announcements on this point, there has been essentially no public discussion on this point.

There is no conception of what Brexit will mean in real and practical terms – including on people’s livelihoods. Businesses that have been aligned to the EU market will close. People will lose their jobs. Whether this will happen is not in question. The only question is the extent to which this will happen.

No Impact Assessment

The UK Government has refused to publish any kind of assessment of the potential economic impact of Brexit. It has also not costed the effects of Johnson’s Brexit deal.

It is the kind of lack of transparency which it has become well known for in such a short space of time. But, it also represents how there are too many variables to make accurate predictions.

Another pledge Johnson has made is that there will be no extension to the transition period. In December 2020, whether or not a deal is agreed, that’s it: the UK will now be alone and the trading relations that currently affect massive parts of the UK economy will suddenly evaporate.

The families affected by this may be presently assured by Johnson’s nice words, but they should be looking at his record for telling the truth. For, with a majority in Parliament, there will be no checks and balances, nothing to stop this deeply damaging course of action, regardless of how long the drop off the cliff is.

Friday 13th is not a date I have ever been afraid of at any time in my life. Except now.

Paul Niland is an Irish writer and political commentator based in Kyiv, and the founder of Lifeline Ukraine.

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