Brexit Deal With EU Looking Even Less Likely Following UK Court Ruling

James Carstensen | September 25, 2019 | 9:32pm EDT
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E.U. chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks in Berlin this week. (Photo by John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – With a recent court ruling prompting calls for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator voiced little hope for any chance of a reaching a deal by Johnson’s October 31 deadline for withdrawing his country from the union, with or without an agreement with Brussels.

“I see no particular reason for optimism today,” said Michel Barnier, adding there was no sign of alignment with Britain over any deal that would avoid a “hard border” (the so-called “Irish backstop”) between post-Brexit Britain and E.U. member Ireland.

“The real question today is: does the U.K. have an equally effective and operational alternative to our backstop?” Barnier asked. “Until now, no alternative solutions that meet all the objectives of the backstop have been presented.”

His comments follow speculation over the implications of the ruling by Britain’s highest court, which found that Johnson’s move to suspend parliament was unlawful.

With the House of Commons reconvened by the speaker, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister, a move backed by the Scottish National Party.

If Johnson were to resign or a new election called, it would place even further in doubt the likelihood of Britain negotiating a Brexit deal by Oct. 31.

E.U. spokesperson Natasha Bertaud during a press conference on Tuesday declined to “comment on the internal constitutional matters of member states.”

A deal looked possible earlier when the E.U. agreed upon a set of proposals with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May. That deal was rejected by parliament three times, prompting May’s resignation. and Johnson has rejected it.

Johnson told broadcaster ITV on Wednesday that he could still reach a deal at an E.U. summit planned for Oct. 17, but reiterated that he would take Britain out of the E.U. without a deal if necessary.

“We will respect the law and we will come out on Oct. 31,” he said.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Oct. 17 would be too late to reach an agreement.

“The withdrawal agreement is actually an international treaty. It’s not the kind of thing that can be amended or cobbled together late at night at the European council meeting on 17 October,” he told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

Even before the British court ruling, prospects of an agreement were looking slim. After meeting with Johnson last week, E.U. Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said he could not truly say that “any real progress has been achieved.”

David Reischer of the Flushing Law Group in New York said Wednesday that the British “Supreme Court has effectively allowed the U.K. parliament to neuter the prime minister’s negotiation with the E.U.”

“Negotiating with the PM will not be useful since the parliament will likely disagree anyways. It is very hard to negotiate a deal with constantly shifting positions,” he added.

Michael Davis, who teaches economics and global strategy at Cox School of Business at SMU in Dallas said via email, “Clearly it’s harder for Boris Johnson to maneuver with parliament back in the game. But then it was already pretty hard for him to maneuver before.”

Davis said another election seems likely given the current turmoil, so the main question would be whether Brussels will try to negotiate with Johnson directly or wait for the next government to be in place first.

“[Waiting] might be the safe move, but on the other hand, if they wait and Boris wins a clear majority, the deal they negotiate would be worse than anything they might get now,” he said.

“The only thing worse for Europe than Brexit is hard Brexit [withdrawal from the E.U. with no deal in place at all], which would be a real thing under a Boris-led majority,” said Davis.

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