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    UK Brexit Proposals Have to 'Stand up to a Reality Check' - Professor

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    Britain will propose setting up a free trade zone with the EU after Brexit. This is what British Prime Minister Theresa May said following a cabinet meeting last week. Meanwhile, reports emerged that May had allegedly told her senior allies that she would sack Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson if he attempts to undermine the reached Brexit agreement.

    Sputnik discussed the issue with Geraint Johnes, professor of economics at Lancaster University.

    Sputnik: How likely is it that Theresa May will actually fire Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson?

    Geraint Johnes: Clearly there’s been a lot of division within the British cabinet about the direction that the Brexit talks should take going forward and there’ve been some very strong opinions on both sides. Essentially the choice has been between a relatively soft Brexit that will please certainly a lot of companies that trade extensively with the European Union and where there are supply chains that are deeply interlinked between the UK and the European Union, but it will disappoint also a lot of people that favor a hard Brexit that would allow Britain to strike independent trade deals with other countries. And Boris Johnson has been very much on the hard Brexit side; he’s probably been the most outspoken critic of a soft Brexit and it depends entirely now as to whether he can maintain the discipline which is required by collective responsibility within the cabinet. 

    READ MORE: Former UK Brexit Minister Fears EU to Demand More Than London Already Offered

    There’s a lot of division within the ruling Conservative Party more generally and there are players that are quite apart from Boris Johnson, people like Rees-Mogg, for example, who may well take exception to the type Brexit that’s been envisaged now by the UK government as a collective force. So the opposition within the Conservative Party doesn't need to come from Boris Johnson, he’s one potential figurehead, but there are others there, and there has been some disquiet among some of the hardline Brexiteers in the Conservative Party about the type of deal that Theresa May and her government, which includes Boris Johnson, are now be working towards.

    Sputnik: Can you comment at least on what role Boris Johnson has played so far and what impact he has had so far in the Brexit negotiations, if at all, or do you think Theresa May's basically doing her thing?

    Geraint Johnes: It’s been a dissenting role. Theresa May has ultimately had to do her thing, she’s been in a weak position as part of the British government because of the division that exists there, but the proactive generation of solutions to this dilemma of how Britain exits the European Union have been coming more from soft Brexiteers and Theresa May herself, in particular.

    We've seen several occasions where negotiations appeared to have got stuck and it’s been Theresa May who has had to go in there and move the move them on a step. The lack of proactivity on the part of the hardline Brexiteers, including Boris Johnson, the lack of promoting realistic solutions that really address the problems of how we facilitate trade, how we get around the problems with firms that need to ensure that their supply chains operate and are unaffected by new restrictions that are put in place. The absence of solutions from hardline Brexiteers has really made it inevitable that we go for a softer Brexit. Now whether we end up in that position or not, because it remains to be seen to what extent the European Union likes the British proposal, whether we end up in that situation or not we don’t know yet.

    Sputnik: What are your thoughts? Do you think that the European Union doesn’t want a softer Brexit?

    Geraint Johnes: I think it would probably like a softer Brexit but there are difficulties with the proposal that came out from Chequers as they stand. One of the key issues here is — suppose that Britain strikes a trade deal with a country like Brazil. It then imports stuff from Brazil on a tariff-free basis. Suppose they then want to re-export these items and they export them out to the European Union, then tariffs would become payable and the mechanism that the Chequers agreement proposes for this is extremely clunky, it relies on technology that doesn’t exist and cannot possibly exist, in other words, it relies on magic, it cannot possibly exist.

    Suppose you import a plate and then re-export that plate. What is there in that plate that triggers the  technology to say: “Hey, a tariff has got to be paid on this!” This is fantasyland! The proposals that the UK's coming up with are going to have to stand up to a reality check and the European Union will then drive the UK either in the direction of a softer Brexit still or a harder Brexit. We don’t know which way that cookie is going to crumble.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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