BORIS JOHNSON has vowed that if Britain elect a Tory government on December 12, his party will “get Brexit done”. While it’s clear that’s what he wants, is it actually possible?
Incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced his plans for the first 100 days in office should he win an overall majority in the December 12 election. At the top of his agenda is passing his withdrawal agreement to ensure a January 31 Brexit – but his promises have been widely questioned.
Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston on Wednesday, Mr Johnson claimed everyone will be able to stop talking about Brexit altogether after the end of January, as the UK will be out of the EU.
He said: “We will have got Brexit done, and you will find, what will happen is the parliamentary agony will be over, the political agony will be over and the misery and tedium and procrastination that been going on will be over.”
However, Mr Peston was quick to point out it was not, in fact, the end of Brexit.
Instead, this is just the beginning of more rigorous trade negotiations, which Mr Johnson says will be wrapped up by the end of 2020.
Pressed by Mr Peston on whether it would be possible to get an EU trade deal wrapped up in a year, when most take many years, Mr Johnson said any suggestion it would require more time was “so negative”.
Other members of Mr Johnson’s last cabinet have issued similar sentiments.
Chancellor Sajid Javid said he did not have a “single doubt” a Conservative government could agree a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020.
Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a Tory government would “agree and finalise a very ambitious, deep, comprehensive free trade agreement” with the EU by the end of next year.
However, Labour said in response that the Tories only offered “more of the same failure”.
So could the Tories actually deliver Brexit in just one year?
There is a common misunderstanding that what has already been negotiated is the bulk of the work – it isn’t.
Trade deals can take years upon years to negotiate – for example, the Canadian free trade deal which took seven years.
Defending the possibility, Mr Johnson said: “Have you ever known, have you ever known two countries start free trade negotiations or start negotiations on a new deal when they were already, already in perfect alignment in regulatory terms and had zero tariffs and zero quotas between them? That’s where we are.”
But the experts are still not convinced.
Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies, told Express.co.uk: “When Mr Johnson utters these words, he must know that he cannot just ‘get Brexit done’.
“Should his government be returned with a majority and Parliament pass his withdrawal agreement, it will only be stage one, as we are then confronted with having to negotiate a new trade agreement with the EU – and this is assuming Mr Johnson genuinely wants one.
“The crunch time for these negotiations would be next June, at which point we would have to notify the EU of any desire to extend the so-called transition period of de facto EU membership, beyond December next year for a couple of years under this withdrawal agreement.”
Professor de Ruyter compared Mr Johnson’s insistence that getting Brexit done will solve the country’s problems was “kind of like a quack physician telling you that to ‘chop off your foot’ will make the pain go away.”
He said: “Far from chopping off one’s foot curing the Brexit malady, we could well wake up next year to find ourselves having a rotting gangrenous leg stump.”
So what is the alternative, then?
A Labour government would see Jeremy Corbyn try to renegotiate Mr Johnson’s deal and then put it to a referendum within six months of taking office.
Mr Corbyn has said he would remain neutral in the event of a second referendum.
However, there are plenty of questions that have yet to be resolved by the Labour leader, such as what deal would he seek.
A more sensitive question is whether his frontbench colleagues would be forced to support it or free to oppose it.
This could be especially awkward if Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry – who have both made clear they will always back Remain – then oppose the deal they have helped negotiate.
These questions are meant to be resolved in a special Brexit conference after the election.
But the matter could be complicated even further if Labour fails to win a majority, as it may need to make concessions to the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party in return for their support.