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Dimitri Zenghelis

January 6th, 2020

‘Experience has taught Johnson that the penalty for breaking promises is vanishingly low’: Dimitri Zenghelis on Brexit in 2020

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Dimitri Zenghelis

January 6th, 2020

‘Experience has taught Johnson that the penalty for breaking promises is vanishingly low’: Dimitri Zenghelis on Brexit in 2020

2 comments | 8 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

LSE Brexit asked some of our academics to predict what kind of Brexit we can expect in 2020. Dimitri Zenghelis (LSE) says we should expect plenty of brinkmanship and subsequent climbdowns from a PM who knows he can get away with them.

Britain will leave the European Union at the end of January 2020 and the next day nothing much will change. Trade and free movement of people between Britain and the EU will continue unencumbered. The UK will find itself in the much-contested transition period – out of the EU, yet subject to its rules without influence on how they are set. This is not a comfortable place for any Prime Minister, let alone one who campaigned on leaving the EU to ‘take back control’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, one of Johnson’s first acts in the new parliament was to enshrine into the withdrawal bill the legal requirement to clinch a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year.

johnson
Boris Johnson at a bilateral meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, September 2019. Photo: The White House. Public domain

But Johnson, by his own account, has no deep ideological commitment to a hard Brexit. A tough stance will head-off cries of ‘vassalage’ from the Brexit party, but with a comfortable majority in parliament and a clear electoral mandate to leave the EU, these are nice-to-haves rather than binding constraints. If Johnson has one ideological commitment, it is to the dogmatic pursuit of his own political career. But this creates a tension. A deal struck in a matter of months would at best amount to a bare bones agreement, offering only restricted access to EU markets with compromises over fisheries and minimum standards. Loss of trade supply lines will most severely impact the Tory constituencies in the Midlands and North, newly won after toppling Labour’s historically indestructible ‘red-wall’. These regions are more dependent on EU trade and investment than London, where the red wall stood firm, and whose economy is the UK’s most integrated into the broader global economy.

If the right deal and the avoidance of unnecessary electoral pain requires more months of negotiation, as former UK Permanent Representative to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers has argued, then the transition will be extended. As with the withdrawal agreement, episodes of brinkmanship and bravado threatening no deal will be routinely followed by compromise and climbdown. Far from being the year of ‘getting Brexit done’ and ‘moving on’, 2020 is more likely to be remembered for more of the same.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.

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About the author

dimitri zenghelis

Dimitri Zenghelis

Dimitri Zenghelis is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE. Previously, he headed the Stern Review Team at the Office of Climate Change, London, and was a senior economist on the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Before working on climate change, Dimitri was Head of Economic Forecasting at HM Treasury.

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