Why is Boris Johnson pro Brexit

Boris Johnson under pressure: what does Biden's election victory mean for Brexit?

Boris Johnson will soon have to make a decision in the Brexit dispute. The designated US President Biden is increasing the political costs for a no-deal Brexit. The decisive factor, however, will be the power struggles in the ranks of the Tories, says Nicolai von Ondarza.

Dr. Nicolai von Ondarza conducts research at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) on topics such as Great Britain and its relationship to the European Union. He is head of the EU / Europe research group. The SWP advises the Bundestag and the Federal Government on all questions of foreign and security policy. The article appears on the SWP website in the “In a nutshell” section.

The time for a successful conclusion of the Brexit trade negotiations is becoming increasingly scarce. Less than 50 days remain until the United Kingdom leaves the transition phase on December 31, 2020 and thus leaves the EU internal market and the customs union. An agreement on future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom would not only have to be negotiated by then, but would also have to receive the approval of the European Parliament. But the shortest duration for such a parliamentary procedure so far was 59 days - and even then the text of the contract to be examined had already been available for months.

The negotiators are now converging on a common legal text. The central political points of contention, however, are still unresolved: rules for fair competitive conditions - the so-called level playing field -, control of state aid, fishing and mechanisms for enforcing the agreement. In addition, there is the British plan to break its obligations under the exit agreement with regard to Northern Ireland with a law on the British internal market - and thus undermine the central regulation that Boris Johnson agreed to in 2019 to close the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit to be able to keep open. In the next few days, British Prime Minister Johnson will have to make the decisions that the British government has put off for so long: is the UK ready for regulatory restrictions on a trade deal with its by far most important trading partner, the EU? Or is it trying to achieve absolute freedom of action and is accepting even greater economic consequences with the no-deal Brexit?

Joe Biden is changing the Brexit equation politically

In this critical situation, the designated US President Joe Biden, an avowed multilateralist, is now entering the world stage. Also with regard to Brexit, he could not be more different from the current incumbent Donald Trump. While Trump supported Brexit and promised the United Kingdom a trade agreement - under the motto "America-First!" - Biden has criticized the British exit from the EU. Irish diplomacy saw a great success when the Irish-born Joe Biden publicly made it clear in the middle of the US election campaign in view of the British Single Market Act that there would be no free trade agreement with him between the US and the UK if London did Endanger the Good Friday Accords and Peace in Northern Ireland. Biden also underlined his great support for the Northern Irish peace process in his first telephone conversation as President-elect with Boris Johnson. In addition to Johnson, Macron and Merkel, he included the Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin in his European "inaugural phone calls".

The prospect of President Biden in the White House also changes the political calculation in the trade-off between deal and no-deal Brexit for Boris Johnson. Because it must be clear to him that he will now accept a break with the Europeans and the United States if the negotiations with the EU fail and the British explicitly violate their obligations to Northern Ireland with the adoption of the Single Market Act. Instead of “Global Britain”, the United Kingdom would endanger both pillars of its foreign policy and isolate itself.

Economically, Biden's intervention is less relevant

At the same time, it should be emphasized that the disproportionately greater damage for the United Kingdom after the no-deal Brexit would be a complete break with the EU. This is particularly evident in the economic area. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the United Kingdom would lose its previously very good access to its most important sales market: around 46 percent of British goods exports went to the EU in 2019. In the same period, 16.5 percent of goods exported went to the USA. If there were to be a British-American free trade agreement, even the British government only expects an increase of a maximum of 0.36 percent of GDP. In the case of a no-deal Brexit, on the other hand, it expects long-term losses of 7.6 percent; in the case of a Brexit with an agreement, it expects minus 4.9 percent. Despite Joe Biden's warning, a trade deal with the US would not have the potential to make up for the losses of Brexit, with or without an agreement.

The domestic political considerations remain decisive

There are enough rational arguments for an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom: the high economic costs, the second Covid-19 wave with corresponding lockdowns, the increasing support in Scotland for independence and now the warnings of the US President-elect.

And despite everything, domestic political considerations remain crucial for Boris Johnson. These are difficult: with the second lockdown, Johnson came under domestic political pressure. Conservative Party members publicly express doubts about his leadership skills, and Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has just kicked Johnson out. The hard Brexit wing in his party urges him to hold on to the hard negotiating position. For a compromise with the EU, Johnson would have to oppose these Brexiteers for the first time - it is precisely the tough Brexit course that holds the Tories together. But while he could blame all the negative consequences on the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Johnson would have to take responsibility for the consequences of Brexit in the event of an agreement with the EU. Because a thin trade agreement would be less catastrophic for the British economy than a no-deal Brexit. The difference to the previous full access to the single market would still be great.