Boris Johnson is set to give European leaders the cold shoulder as he dramatically ramps up preparations for a No Deal Brexit.
Downing Street last night said the Prime Minister had told Michael Gove to lead daily meetings of the Government’s emergency committee ‘Cobra’ in order to ensure Britain is ready for a No Deal departure on October 31.
The Cobra emergency room is normally reserved for responding to crises such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
A senior government source said Mr Johnson had no plans to visit European capitals such as Brussels, Paris and Berlin in the hope of reopening talks.
Boris Johnson, pictured with Will Walden working on his speech in his temporary office inside Admiralty House, London, is set to give European leaders the cold shoulder
One insider said it was possible there would be no significant Brexit negotiations until a Brussels summit starting on October 17, just a fortnight before the UK is due to leave the EU.
The developments came as:
- The CBI prepared to warn that the EU ‘lags behind the UK in seeking to prevent the worst effects of a No Deal scenario’ and urge both sides to step up plans to avoid the economic fallout;
- Government sources ruled out an election before the end of October, despite four polls showing Mr Johnson’s arrival had given the Tories a boost;
- Mr Johnson prepared to travel to Scotland today for talks with Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who are both opposed to No Deal;
- He established an inner ‘War Cabinet’ of just six ministers to co-ordinate Brexit strategy;
- Ministers and senior officials in Brexit-related departments were asked to cancel their holidays;
- The Treasury was gearing up for a possible emergency Budget in the first week of October;
- Ministers prepared to sign off a major public information campaign including TV adverts and leaflets to 27million homes.
Mr Johnson’s hardening stance follows terse telephone conversations the new Prime Minister held with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Claude Juncker last week in which all three European leaders rejected his demand to scrap the Irish backstop.
The senior government source said ditching the backstop, which critics say would lock the UK into the customs union indefinitely, was a precondition to any successful negotiation.
Mr Johnson told fellow leaders he is keen to negotiate, but sees no point in trying to proceed with a deal rejected three times by MPs.
An insider said it was possible there would be no significant Brexit negotiations until a Brussels summit starting on October 17. Pictured is Mr Johnson outside of 10 Downing Street
‘I wouldn’t expect to see the Prime Minister doing the ritual tour of European capitals this summer for the sake of it,’ the source said. ‘If they want to take the backstop out, then great, let’s get round the table.
‘If they don’t – and at the moment it seems they don’t – then OK, we will crack on and prepare for No Deal. We won’t be going to them.’
Leading Eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith last night welcomed Mr Johnson’s decision to avoid getting sucked into talks on ways to revive Theresa May’s deal.
The former Tory leader said: ‘He should let them stew for a while and see if they change their minds.
‘If he were to go to Brussels or Paris now, it would be just another set-up where we are made to look like supplicants again.’
The Prime Minister is also said to have told Michael Gove to lead daily meetings of the Government’s emergency committee ‘Cobra’ to ensure Britain is ready for a No Deal departure on October 31. Pictured are members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet at their first meeting
Mr Gove, pictured, will hold his ‘daily operations committee’ – codenamed XO – until the end of the summer
In a significant development, No 10 last night said Mr Gove, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, would begin holding daily Cobra meetings tomorrow to drive ahead No Deal preparations.
Mr Gove yesterday said the Government still hoped the EU might back down but he had to ‘operate on the assumption they will not’. And Mr Johnson’s controversial adviser Dominic Cummings, who masterminded the Vote Leave campaign, has told colleagues his mission is to get the UK out on October 31 ‘by any means necessary’.
EU ‘lags behind’ on No Deal, warns CBI
The European Union ‘lags behind’ Britain in preparing for a No Deal Brexit, the CBI warns today.
In a major report, the employers’ organisation issues 200 recommendations that both sides need to implement to limit the impact of No Deal on businesses and jobs.
The CBI, a staunch opponent of No Deal, warns that neither side is ready and urges both to step up efforts to strike a new deal.
The study rubbished the EU’s claim that it is much better prepared for the fallout of a No Deal this autumn. This will encourage senior Tories who believe the EU will be willing to make concessions if it believes the UK is serious about No Deal. A CBI spokesman said: ‘The report also highlights how – contrary to many claims –the EU lags behind the UK in seeking to prevent the worst effects of a No Deal scenario.’
The CBI urges Brussels to agree ‘temporary standstills’ on regulations and controls to avoid chaos.
And it says the UK should review ‘outdated’ advice for business by the middle of August, before launching a campaign to give firms ‘simple and clear’ advice.
Sources said Mr Johnson used a conference call with the Cabinet yesterday to warn that Mrs May’s preparations for No Deal had ‘not moved quickly enough, did not result in actions or accountability and were often undermined by parallel structures’.
Mr Gove will hold his ‘daily operations committee’ – codenamed XO – in the Cabinet Office’s Cobra room until the end of the summer. And Mr Johnson will hold twice-weekly meetings of his ‘War Cabinet’, known as the Exit Strategy Committee, or XS.
He will also lead an Exit, Economy and Trade committee (ETC), which will focus on Britain’s post-Brexit relations around the world. It came as new Chancellor Sajid Javid prepared to release details of an extra £1billion for No Deal, on top of the £4.2billion already allocated. The funding will include cash to recruit an additional 500 Border Force guards. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said: ‘The Treasury will play its full role in helping to deliver Brexit.’
His policy of maybes is fraught with risks
Commentary by Dominic Sandbrook
Donald Trump, in his book The Art Of The Deal, wrote: ‘I like thinking big. I always have… Most people think small, because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning. And that gives people like me a great advantage.’
No wonder, then, that he regards Boris Johnson as ‘Britain’s Trump’, since there is nothing our new prime minister enjoys more than ‘thinking big’.
Defying his critics, the Tories’ blond bombardier kicked off his premiership at a whirlwind pace, with promises to hire 20,000 new police officers, build a new high-speed Northern rail link and kick-start a ‘new golden age’.
All good rousing stuff, of course, and a bracing contrast not just with the supremely miserable Jeremy Corbyn, but with his Tory predecessor.
For all her virtues, Theresa May seemed forever cast as the bearer of bad news. But as the nation’s cheerleader-in-chief, Johnson hopes to bulldoze his way through to electoral success, not least by throwing billions of pounds at eye-catching projects in the hope that one or two might work.
Defying his critics, the Tories’ blond bombardier kicked off his premiership at a whirlwind pace. Mr Johnson is pictured making a call on speakerphone before meeting the Queen on Wednesday, having spent the day working on his speech
In the grand scheme of things, though, all this is just window dressing. For May learned to her cost, only one thing matters: Brexit. If Johnson makes a success of it, he stays in Downing Street. If he makes a mess of it, he is out. It is as simple as that.
In a striking departure from May’s strategy, there is a well drilled campaign to convince Brussels that Britain is now deadly serious about the prospect of No Deal on October 31.
Although May insisted that ‘No Deal is better than a bad deal’, nobody believed she really meant it. It became increasingly obvious she regarded the prospect of No Deal as an unalloyed disaster. As Brussels insiders gleefully told the Press, the British liked to talk tough. But they always folded eventually.
How different the mood is now. As Johnson’s ‘Brexit coordinator’, Michael Gove, wrote yesterday, the Government is ‘working on the assumption’ of No Deal, which it sees as a ‘very real prospect’.
The PM has convened a ‘war cabinet’ of six Brexiteer ministers which, as the Mail reports today, is planning a £10million ‘PR blitz’ with a leaflet sent to every home on preparing for a No Deal Brexit, while a No Deal ‘operational committee’ is due to meet daily.
Chancellor Sajid Javid is said to be promising an additional £1billion to prepare for crashing out of the EU.
In a striking departure from May’s strategy, there is a well drilled campaign to convince Brussels that Britain is now deadly serious about the prospect of No Deal on October 31. Mr Johnson is pictured talking to his new special advisers in his temporary office
And, with ministers working on the assumption that the EU will block any plan to scrap the Irish backstop, it has emerged that Johnson has no plans to visit Brussels, Paris or Berlin in the coming weeks to lobby them to do so.
On the face of it, this all looks terrifyingly risky. Most British businesses dread the prospect of No Deal, with its potentially catastrophic impact on orders and supply chains. If it goes wrong, the Tories could find themselves out of office for a generation, handing power to Corbyn’s sinister cabal of Marxists and anti-Semites.
But is there method in Johnson’s bravura? In The Art Of The Deal, Trump insisted that ‘the worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.’
Crucially, there is a precedent for a British PM talking tough, threatening Armageddon and getting his (or rather, her) way.
In the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher infuriated her European partners by effectively blocking progress on further European integration until they gave her a massive rebate on Britain’s EU budget contribution.
She refused to budge, once lecturing the other leaders for four hours over dinner.
At one point, she ordered the Treasury to prepare to cut off British funds from Brussels accounts – a declaration of war that appalled many colleagues.
There is a precedent for a British PM talking tough. In the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher infuriated her European partners by effectively blocking progress on further European integration until they gave her a massive rebate on Britain’s EU budget contribution. Mr Johnson is pictured beneath a huge portrait of Margaret Thatcher at Conservative campaign headquarters
But it worked. Brussels blinked, handing back more than £700million a year, the equivalent of at least £4billion today.
Having been a journalist in Brussels between 1989 and 1994, Johnson will be very familiar with this story. And he clearly believes similar tactics will pay off again.
In his dream scenario, Brussels, impressed and alarmed by the Government’s No Deal preparations, will blink at the last minute, scrapping the controversial Irish backstop and handing him a new agreement. Result: a deal, a smooth Brexit and crowds pouring onto the streets to acclaim the male Maggie.
Is this vaguely plausible, though? Well, it hinges on two issues.
First, do EU leaders believe Britain is serious about No Deal? Even before yesterday’s developments, the answer so far seems to be ‘yes’. Ireland’s foreign minister has said that Johnson’s confrontational first Commons appearance as PM was a ‘very bad day’, which suggests the Dublin government is taking his threats very seriously.
Second, and more importantly, will they blink? At the moment, the answer seems to be a very firm ‘No’. From the outset, EU leaders have been adamant that there can be no changes to their Withdrawal Agreement. And amid all the turbulence of the last few months, there has not been the slightest hint that they would consider scrapping the Irish backstop.
Indeed, all the signals suggest that France’s President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, wants to make an example of Britain, and would welcome the prospect of a chaotic No Deal Brexit.
I might be wrong, of course. Perhaps, at the very last moment, Europe’s elite will judge that it would be better not to risk a colossal economic shock.
Perhaps, impressed by the seriousness of the Government’s No Deal plans, they will offer concessions. Perhaps Johnson’s audacious brinkmanship will pay off. If so, he should be cheered to the rafters. But any policy depending on so many ‘maybes’ is fraught with risk.
On Day One in the job, Johnson hit out at the ‘doomsters and gloomsters’ who worry about the prospect of No Deal. I agree that doomsters and gloomsters are not much fun. But that does not mean they are wrong.
It is in the very nature of brinkmanship that it often fails. No gambler wins every time. And if Johnson’s bet fails, there will be only one winner: Jeremy Corbyn.