Opinion Editorial

Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'Take your time, Boris, for the sake of every one of us'

Yesterday Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to outlaw any extension of the next phase of Brexit past 2020. Photo: Reuters
Yesterday Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to outlaw any extension of the next phase of Brexit past 2020. Photo: Reuters
Editorial

Editorial

Most leaders soon realise they have scant choice but to be on speaking terms with trouble; few seek it out on a daily basis, but Boris Johnson embraces it with relish.

Yesterday the British prime minister vowed to outlaw any extension of the next phase of Brexit past 2020. The announcement caused sterling to shed its recent gains, threatening the welcome stability his resounding election victory secured.

At his rambunctious best, Mr Johnson told his "people's cabinet", and the world, "you ain't seen nothing yet, folks".

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He pledged to work 24 hours a day to deliver the priorities of the British people.

There are good reasons for hoping Mr Johnson is successful, but even those with skin in the game, the stakeholders in a positive outcome, are concerned he is swerving perilously close to another cliff edge.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney was one of many who questioned the wisdom of such haste.

He saw it as a "strange decision" that would see the "UK deciding to tie itself in terms of options".

"Nobody is forcing the UK to apply for an extended transition period but they have the option to do it if they want to up until the middle of next summer, and what Boris Johnson is doing is essentially ruling out an option that was put into the Withdrawal Agreement for Britain."

Brussels is also concerned he could be risking another Brexit logjam.

The complexities of hammering out the minutiae of any duty-free, quota-free deal are immense.

Guarantees of a level playing field in areas such as state aid and competition, environmental and labour law and taxation would all have to be first secured. European chief negotiator Michel Barnier also expressed scepticism a deal could be agreed in time.

The overriding concern is the re-emergence of the spectre of a no-deal break unless there is an extension.

This looming threat is of course what Mr Johnson wants to hover over negotiations.

Britain's future relationship with the EU will have special significance for this country on issues such as the trade relationship, security and fishing rights.

The EU has demonstrated convincingly that it is able to meet deadlines while Downing Street has consistently missed them.

Mr Johnson railed against this "dither and delay" in the hustings; now with a muscular majority he clearly feels it is his duty to deliver.

Flexibility and patience will be required on both sides. Mr Johnson is clearly hoping to use the tighter timeframe to squeeze the EU into accepting his demands, but pressure works both ways.

By enshrining in law his campaign promise not to extend the transition period, Mr Johnson has given himself just 10 to 11 months to cut a trade deal, instead of nearly three years.

There is still a daunting distance to go in "getting Brexit done" beyond a manifesto motto, and into the pragmatic world of political reality.

Irish Independent

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