Unless a miracle occurs and the Tories do not end up with a majority after the general election, there are two main ways that Brexit goes from there. Given this is the future of the country, it is astonishing how little this is being discussed. Except when you remember that neither of the two largest parties want to talk about it, then it starts to make more sense.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be passed as quickly as possible and then we will be “out” of the EU. I put the “out” in quotations because although we will cease to have MEPs in the European Parliament, a place on the European Council, any commissioners, etc, everything else stays the same. We’re still in the Single Market and the Customs Union; freedom of movement, both for us and for EU citizens coming here continues; the role of the ECJ over relevant areas stays the same. We are then in “transition”, although this is a misnomer; what we are transitioning to remains to be decided. Oh, and we will be giving the EU a lot of money for volunteering to have no say in the laws that will still apply to the country until who knows when.
All of this is certain to happen if the Tories get a majority. What is unclear is what “who knows when” actually means in practice. There are two basic paths BoJo can take. He has promised to not extend the transition period past December 2020. This gives the EU and the UK a year to get a full blown trade deal that covers everything. This won’t happen. If Johnson feels like he has to hold firm on this promise, then what will happen is that the EU will do what it did with the Withdrawal Agreement: it will sequence the talks in their favour. They will look to get agreements on fishing rights, rights of EU citizens in the UK, things like this that they are genuinely worried about. With all of the stuff they deem important out of the way, the UK could then agree to a very bad deal that is heavily slanted toward the EU before December 2020. Then we really are “out”, facing the consequences of having agreed to a bad deal with the EU.
The second possibility – and I think this is more likely, but who knows – is that Johnson will extend the transition period, and we will be in transition for a very long time, possibly for decades. The EU will have itself a perfect situation: a UK that is no longer involved in any of the decision making processes, but is unable to diverge. A true vassal state. Meanwhile, it could suit the UK because the Tories have run on the slogan of “get Brexit done”. We have already seen how totemistic the whole concept of Brexit is to most people. Johnson signed up to what is largely May’s deal, except instead of a backstop there is a front stop – the deal just signs Northern Ireland up to what would have happened in the event of the backstop kicking in. And no one really cared. Farage tried to make hay out of it and got nowhere. Boris said it was Brexit and that was enough for 90% of Leavers.
Given this, why would Boris want to scare the horses for no reason? If the end of the transition into proper Brexit is bound to be bumpy, why bother when no one actually cares? He wants to “unite” the country again – getting to a place where Brexit is “done” and yet nothing has actually changed is not the worst move a Conservative government with a healthy majority could make.
Farage can try and stir the pot again, but he failed last time and why would it be different this summer or the end of 2020? Everyone is sick of Brexit. Boris “got it done”. The UK can sink into Brexit in name only and move on for a while.
You’re leaving out the possibility that Boris is actually serious about leaving without a deal at the end of next year. It would be the perfect time to do it: he wouldn’t have to face the country again until 2024, by which time any transitory fall-out from such an exit (which would obviously be lessened if it was clear from, say, June that no-deal was a possible outcome and therefore strategies were enacted to cope with it, now there’s no Hammond in government to veto such things) should have sorted itself out and the UK should be on an upward trajectory again.
Indeed this is probably the only viable long-term strategy that gives any chance of a Boris win in 2024. If he extends and keeps extending until 2024, or if he allows the EU to control the sequencing and so ends up with a bad deal, then Farage comes back with yet another new party. If he only extends a bit and then leaves without a deal, there’s less time for the consequences to sort themselves out: if it’s got to be no-deal then best it happens ASAP to give more time to steady the ship afterwards.
(I can’t see this government making the same mistake as May over sequencing. for a start, May didn’t care as she was clear she was never serious about leaving without a deal and only ever saw her role vis-a-vis Brexit as a damage-limitation exercise, so she was happy to give into the EU on everything. this government actively wants to leave, and furthermore is fully aware — and if not they ought to be given how manay articles have been written on the topic — how allow the EU to control the sequencing was probably the single most important factor in making it impossible to get a good deal).
Regarding the ‘front-stop’: the key thing Boris got which May didn’t is that Stormont now can end the agreements. If Stormont has a Unionist majority in 2024, which is not at all implausible, especially if the ‘Irish Sea border’ causes real hassle to NI business (most of NI’s business isstill with the UK, not the Republic) then Northern Ireland will exit the EU’s customs union and re-join the UK. And Stormont Unionists won’t be at all lily-livered about prospects of a ‘hard border’ either.
(This does require Stormont to be up and running again, of course, too. But that also is not too hard to imagine; all it would take is amending the NI Act again either to allow the Deputy First Minister post to remain vacant if the largest party of the grouping which doesn’t hold the First Minister post refuses to nominate, or to in that circumstance pass the right of nomination along to the next largest party of that grouping.]