Boris Johnson’s empty no-deal threat

London An old saying goes that a dog that barks does not bite. The same is true of Boris Johnson’s most recent remarks on the Brexit negotiations. The Prime Minister on Friday threatened again to lead Britain out of the single market on January 1 without a trade deal. The EU’s demands are “completely unacceptable,” he said in a video statement.

Europeans are not ready to give Britain an agreement like Canada, said Johnson. That became clear at the EU summit on Thursday. He had therefore come to the conclusion that one had to prepare for the “no deal” on January 1st. However, as a precaution, he put in: “Unless there is a fundamental change in your approach.”

The restriction already makes it clear that Johnson’s no-deal threat is not his last word. Instead, the crucial news of the day is that he wants to keep negotiating. The pithy rhetoric is intended to distract from the fact that his ultimatum of having to have a deal by October 15 has expired without consequences.

The chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost will meet in London next week. Again it will be about fishing and subsidy control.

Johnson’s complaint about the immovable EU is a response to Thursday’s uncompromising summit statement. The EU heads of government had criticized the fact that there was not enough progress on the central issues. And: They had emphasized that they expected movement from Johnson.

It wasn’t well received in London. On Thursday evening, chief negotiator Frost had already expressed his displeasure on Twitter. He was “disappointed” with the summit declaration and “surprised” that only London should move. This is an unusual way of negotiating.

On Friday morning, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab made it clear that one would not get up from the negotiating table. There could still be a compromise, he had told the BBC.

British cabinet majority for deal

The latest escalation hides the fact that things are going well. “In the past few weeks, both sides have been careful not to close any solution paths,” says Simon Fraser, former foreign state secretary and partner at the consulting firm Flint Global. A “landing zone” is in sight.

The political will for an agreement exists on both sides. A majority in the British cabinet is in favor of an agreement, says Fraser. In addition to Johnson, these included Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove.

After the summit, there were also compromise signals from the EU side. Barnier emphasized that he was ready to intensify the talks in the next two or three weeks. Chancellor Angela Merkel had also emphasized that a compromise had to be found that would benefit both sides. Both were positively noted in London.

Fraser therefore considers the British outrage over the summit declaration to be played. “Nobody could have expected the EU leaders to publicly ask their negotiators to compromise,” he said. “The heads of government cannot appear softer than the EU Commission.”

French President Emmanuel Macron in particular did not want to show any weakness at the summit. He wants to secure as far-reaching fishing rights as possible for his fishermen in the British coastal waters. At the same time, he knows that France and other fishing nations will have to accept lower fishing quotas in future. Because the alternative, a “no deal”, would make fishermen even worse from January.

Johnson cannot afford a no-deal scenario either. He has his hands full with the corona crisis. The economy is suffering, the country is facing a second lockdown, and he is at odds with mayors in the north of England and regional governments in Scotland and Wales. It would therefore be in his interest to clear Brexit politically as soon as possible.

The British business associations also hope so. “After four years of negotiations and so many hurdles overcoming, there is no time to give up,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the CBI business association. “Neither side can afford to fall on the last fence.”

More: Boris Johnson threatens to break off trade talks.