Did Brexit make the EU look bad?

Struggle for Brexit : Make Johnson look like the winner

Economist Dennis Snower is the founder and president of the Global Solutions Initiative. Before that, he headed the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Translation: Tilman Schröter.

In the Brexit negotiations, both the EU and Great Britain have become prisoners of their red lines. There is no longer any room for a strategy that is genuinely in the interests of the citizens. Instead, the negotiating partners follow their respective scripts like sleepwalkers and seem to stumble inevitably towards a dramatic and bad ending: the no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson wants the EU to forego the backstop - that is, the regulation in the exit agreement that has already been negotiated, which is intended to prevent a hard border from developing between the EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which belongs to Great Britain. In the case of the backstop, Northern Ireland and the UK would remain in a close partnership with the EU if there was no final settlement of the problem at the end of the two-year transition period. The EU negotiators insist that this rule remain in place. This stuck game cannot be resolved in the current domestic political struggles in Great Britain either.

But there is a path that all parties have so far overlooked, as they are more concerned about their own reputations than about the welfare of their citizens. This solution is deeply contrary to the DNA of current politics, a politics that is driven by victory over the other: the EU could simply decouple the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement and postpone the resolution of the Northern Ireland problem.

If the sleepwalkers stick to their script, all plausible scenarios seem to result in a no-deal Brexit. The EU insists that there must be a border between the European single market and Great Britain - preferably between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. Boris Johnson's government has firmly rejected this. If neither side gives in in the Brexit negotiations, the result will be a no-deal Brexit.

No-deal Brexit harms both sides

Even after the turbulent events of the past few days, it is still conceivable that there will be new elections in Great Britain before October 31, i.e. before the date on which the no-deal Brexit would take place. On Monday, the British Parliament wants to vote on new elections for the second time in a few days. This parliamentary election - if the Labor Party agrees - Boris Johnson would most likely win. The Labor Party (under the extremely unpopular Jeremy Corbyn) and the Liberal Democrats (who have never been a leading force in Britain's politics) do not have a majority. There are many in both mainland Europe and Britain hoping for a government of national unity in which Labor and the Liberal Democrats share power. But that is idle daydreaming.

The Liberal Democrats, led by Jo Swinson, have made it clear that they would not support a transitional government under Corbyn. Corbyn, on the other hand, would not join any government run by anyone other than himself. Boris Johnson would win the election. The strength of the Brexiteers is unbroken, the liberals are weak, Corbyn's views are too left for most Britons and his Chancellor-designate, John McDonnell, is a Marxist. But if Boris Johnson wins, we will get a no-deal Brexit.

A Brexit would cause massive damage to the economies of Great Britain and the EU, the former probably much more. So one should ask oneself the following important question: Just suppose that one or both sides in the Brexit negotiations woke up from their sleepwalking and suddenly really started to think about what is in the interests of the European and British citizens, regardless of national pride and Personal Vanities: What would be the first thing the negotiators would have to do? The answer is obvious: it must postpone the Northern Ireland solution.

The Northern Ireland problem will only become critical once the UK leaves the EU. But that only happened two years after the exit agreement was signed. During these two years of transition, the UK will remain part of the customs union. So you could decouple the backstop regulation from the exit contract and discuss it later.

Should the UK not resolve the Northern Ireland problem after the end of the two-year transition period, a no-deal Brexit would be inevitable. Both parties would have two more years to avoid exactly that. Within these next two years the UK will hold an election and it is very unlikely that the Northern Irish DUP will continue to have the UK government in a headlock after that. If the DUP leaves the government, it would make a solution to the Northern Ireland problem much easier.

From the community

On the one hand, the no-deal in Snower's proposal would only be postponed for two years, with the same negative consequences, and on the other hand, the smaller EU member states in particular could lose confidence in the solidarity of the EU. That has practical relevance.

... writes the user of the administrator

Postponing the Northern Ireland Problem

Postponing the Northern Ireland problem would bring both an advantage and a disadvantage to the EU. The advantage: The acute danger for the EU budget would be averted. Boris Johnson has threatened not to pay the monies Britain owes the EU, among other things, for pension payments to British EU officials. If the backstop were to be postponed, the UK would pay what it promised the EU under the Withdrawal Treaty. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would not feel bound by that promise.

The disadvantage is that the EU would weaken its negotiating position in the exit negotiations. The UK could now use the payments as leverage. However, this disadvantage is minor as the UK is less important to the EU economy than vice versa. From an EU perspective, a no-deal Brexit would be much more serious. But that is exactly what we are currently headed for.

In short: if the negotiators could put their personal pride aside and focus solely on the interests of their citizens, they would have to decouple the backstop and postpone it. Britain would have to sign the exit agreement and both sides would then have two years to think about the Irish border, hopefully under a new British government. Yes, it is correct: it would look really bad for the EU if it postponed the Northern Ireland problem and decoupled the backstop for the time being.

It would look like Boris Johnson won. He has already announced that the EU would collapse, provided the British government were determined to exit with a no-deal. Giving in to his demands would mean rewarding the UK's most irresponsible politician, a man who used outrageous lies to cheer for Brexit at the expense of the EU. It would look like the EU has abandoned Ireland - although that impression would be wrong - and that would create unease in the already tense periphery of the EU. In addition, it would appear as if the EU has damaged its credibility as the EU negotiators have always insisted that the Northern Ireland problem must be resolved immediately, with the Withdrawal Agreement.

However, none of this has any practical relevance at first, but only damages the pride and honor of the negotiators. In the end, however, the wellbeing of the citizens should have priority and everything should be done to avert a no-deal Brexit. We need great politicians now: politicians who think first of their citizens and then of winning.

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