Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
7 September 2020

Is a no-deal Brexit now inevitable?

Boris Johnson’s threat to walk away from negotiations with the EU should be taken seriously.

By Stephen Bush

Is Boris Johnson really serious about walking out of Brexit talks if a deal has not been reached by 15 October, as he will claim today? Even ministers are divided about whether the Prime Minister’s statement is a change of position, or simply a negotiating posture.

The case for scepticism runs like this: in 2017, Johnson and his allies called for Theresa May to have a staged walk-out in order to convince the European Union that the British government was serious about a no-deal exit, and thereby unlock a better trade deal. This argument suggests the government is now taking the opportunity to apply that gambit to the EU-UK trade talks.

But the case to take the Prime Minister’s words at face value looks stronger. Over at the FT, Peter Foster reveals the government is preparing to bring forward legislation that would unpick the legal commitments around the Irish border made by the British government when Johnson negotiated the withdrawal agreement.

Don’t forget that the argument, originally advanced in private by Dominic Cummings and others to support the backing of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, was that anything we agreed to complete the United Kingdom’s exit could be unpicked after we had left the bloc.

Yes, undermining the Irish border protocol means undermining any hope of a serious US-UK trade deal, but the government’s own red lines, on agri-food, the National Health Service and more besides, have already undermined any hope of a serious US-UK trade deal.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

And the big prize of Brexit, at least as far as this Downing Street is concerned, is freedom from restrictions on state aid: an aim that, similarly, cannot be achieved while signing any EU-UK trade deal.

So the possibility of no deal remains very high – and the government’s moves in that direction should be taken seriously.