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‘Turbo-charging’ Brexit preparations

Boris Johnson became Prime Minister on 24 July 2019 with a pledge to ‘turbo-charge’ UK preparations for Brexit, with or without a withdrawal agreement. The new Government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit have included talking to EU and EU27 leaders; talking to representatives of the haulage, freight and port industries and border force officers in Dover; increasing efforts to ensure businesses are ready to trade post-Brexit; making more no-deal preparation money available; launching an advertising campaign; and creating new government committees to prepare for ‘no deal’. Mr Johnson appointed a new senior adviser, the Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings.

Talking to the EU

Mr Johnson, members of his new Cabinet and his ‘sherpa’ David Frost have spoken in person or by phone to leaders of the Devolved Administrations, the European Commission and other European leaders about Brexit. Mr Johnson was positive about prospects for renegotiating Brexit terms after meeting his French and German counterparts at the G7 in late August.

Boris Johnson wants a deal but no ‘backstop’

The Prime Minister says his preferred option is to leave the EU with a deal, but not the one negotiated by the previous Prime Minister in 2018. He also maintains that the UK will leave without a withdrawal agreement if necessary. His priority has been to renegotiate the 2018 Agreement agreed by the EU and Theresa May, and to remove the Irish backstop arrangements that are intended to prevent a hard border emerging on the island of Ireland (see Commons Library Insight, The backstop explained).

UK begins to detach from EU

Along with stepping up its no-deal preparations, the Government is reducing the UK’s presence in the EU institutions and meetings, and has not nominated a UK candidate for Commissioner in the new Commission due to start in November.

Talks with EU are resumed – but is there any progress on the backstop?

Brexit talks between EU and UK officials resumed in August. The Prime Minister said progress had been made on renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, and that the EU might be willing to compromise on the Irish backstop in order to avoid a no-deal exit. There has been correspondence between the Prime Minister and the EU on the backstop, but there is no concrete evidence of a compromise agreement, and the EU says it is still waiting for the UK to put forward “realistic” proposals.

EU and UK maintain their ‘red lines’

The EU and the UK have maintained their earlier ‘red lines’. 

  • on the EU side: the 2018 Withdrawal Agreement is the only possible agreement and the integrity of the Single Market and the Irish backstop must be maintained.
  • on the UK side: the Withdrawal Agreement must be renegotiated and the backstop removed if the UK is to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The EU continues no-deal Brexit preparations

The EU is continuing its no-deal Brexit preparations, with a business preparations checklist, legislative measures and special funding to help mitigate the impact of ‘no deal’ in the EU27 states.

UK Government and Parliamentary manoeuvres on Brexit

The Prime Minister announced that Parliament would prorogue in early September. This would be a possible mechanism by which the Government could deliver a no-deal Brexit on 31 October and frustrate any Parliamentary efforts to avert such an outcome (see Commons Briefing Paper 8589, Prorogation, 11 June 2019). Legal challenges to a prorogation with this motive were initiated in the English and Scottish courts.

MPs who want to try and prevent a no-deal Brexit have proposed legislation mandating the Government to seek another Article 50 extension. Opposition parties agreed to pursue this route rather than seek to bring down the Government with a no-confidence vote. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill has been debated in the Commons and Lords and will complete all stages by 9 September. There is also the possibility of an early general election, with a Government motion tabled for the week beginning 9 September, but this is unlikely to be supported by opposition parties.

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