British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will head to Berlin and Paris this week in a bid to persuade German and French leaders to reopen Brexit negotiations and secure a new departure deal for Britain from the European Union.
British officials say he will emphasize that if a new agreement cannot be secured, he is ready to lead Britain out of the world’s biggest trading bloc on Oct. 31, come what may.
Aides to German Chancellor Angela Merkel say she will rebuff Johnson’s entreaties and warn him that Berlin is ready to see Britain leave the EU without an agreement, despite the economic disruption the move will cause on both sides of the English Channel.
Neither she nor French President Emmanuel Macron will agree to a new deal to replace the one they struck with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, more than a year ago, senior EU officials told VOA.
The midweek meetings in Berlin and Paris will come days before a G-7 summit of leading industrial powers, which could see sharp clashes between U.S. and European heads of government and state over climate change.
Planning for Johnson’s European tour came after leaked British government documents detailing the potentially dire "aftershocks" of a no-deal outcome fueled cross-party plots for a government of national unity to replace Johnson’s.
In a speech Monday, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's main opposition party, accused Johnson of making a lurch “to the hard right” and of being a “fake populist,” saying his Labor Party would do everything to block a no-deal exit from happening. Dubbing Johnson “Britain’s Trump,” he urged voters to back Labor, if as seems increasingly likely, a snap general election is called.
The Labor leader said a national poll will provide a “once-in-a-generation chance” for a change of direction of politics on the scale of 1945 or 1979, when Labor’s Clement Attlee and the Conservative Margaret Thatcher won elections respectively.
Downing Street is playing down the leaked Brexit assessments. Officials say the documents were drawn up when May was in office and when ministers were blocking what needed to be done to prepare for a “hard Brexit,” that is, leaving the EU without a deal or the available funds.
The documents were not based on worst-case scenarios, according to a senior government official, who told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, which published the assessments, that they form the most realistic assessment of what the public will face.
“These are likely, basic, reasonable scenarios — not the worst case,” the source said in the interview.
Lack of contingency planning
In the case of a hard Brexit, the documents expose huge gaps in British contingency planning and envisage a three-month-long meltdown at Britain’s key southern ports, customs checks being reimposed on the border separating Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic, a shortfall in medicines and fuel, and food price increases. A medicine shortage would be "vulnerable to severe extended delays," as three-quarters of British medicines come through the main Channel crossings, the documents explain.
Potential clashes between British and European fishermen are also forecast in the event of a hard Brexit. The reimposition of customs checks on the island of Ireland would prove “unsustainable” in the face of predicted prtests, road blockages and civil disobedience, warn the authors.
The no-deal documents were only drawn up earlier this month and presented to the government’s most important Brexit planning committee, said some sources.
Fuel import tariffs could “inadvertently” lead to the closure of two oil refineries, and Britain could see mounting protests at the overall disruption. Gridlock caused by months of port delays could impact the distribution of fuel. Up to 85% of trucks using the main English Channel crossings could be delayed by French customs for up to three days, according to the documents.
On Sunday, Johnson lashed out at the reports of serious Brexit aftershocks, saying they were “preposterous smears” and had been leaked by pro-EU ministers from the previous government determined to stop Britain leaving the bloc.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of Business Industry, said Monday that it is “difficult to predict exactly what the outcome could be, but in terms of our conversations with businesses over the years, these feel like plausible outcomes.” She said the documents “show just how incredibly serious for our economy a no-deal outcome would be.”
The political tussle has intensified with pro-EU lawmakers plotting how best to thwart Brexit.
All of the country’s parties are in the grip of election fever. Speculation is mounting that Johnson’s government, which has a majority of just one in the polarized House of Commons, will lose a no-confidence vote next month.
Corbyn is trying to persuade the other opposition parties to back Labor to install him as the “temporary” prime minister of a time-limited government to block a no-deal Brexit. But while Scotland’s nationalists appear ready to support the Labor leader, Liberal Democrats and pro-EU Conservative rebels adamantly oppose Corbyn. They want a senior parliamentarian with little personal ambition to act as a transitional prime minister of a national unity government before a general election can be held.
Advisers of Queen Elizabeth fear she may become part of the toxic political struggle, wrecking an unwritten constitutional arrangement that has kept modern sovereigns above partisan politics.