16:47 GMT28 May 2020
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    The Johnson government is due to vote on a new Brexit plan on 20 December. British academics say that the prime minister's initiative to block the potential extension of the transition period is sending a strong signal to both Brussels and hard-line Brexiteers.

    Having returned in triumph after the 2019 UK general election, Boris Johnson reshuffled the cabinet and introduced an amendment to his Brexit bill to prevent British lawmakers from extending the withdrawal transition period beyond the end of 2020, thus returning a no-deal option back to the table.

    Currently, the Johnson government is planning to leave the EU on 31 January while the implementation period is due to end on 31 December 2020. Citing Downing Street, The Guardian pointed out that the newly elected House of Commons is likely to vote on Johnson’s Brexit plan on Friday.

    Johnson Signals He Won't Repeat May's Mistakes

    According to Mark Garnett, a politics professor at Lancaster University and author of the book "From Anger to Apathy: The British Experience", Johnson is sending a signal to the EU that he is going to play tough.

    "Boris Johnson is working on the assumption that Theresa May's biggest mistake over Brexit was to make inadequate preparations for a 'no deal' scenario", the academic explains. "This, in Johnson's view, showed the EU that May would always prefer a compromise to 'no deal', and this weakened her bargaining position. So Johnson is signalling to the EU that he is a much tougher negotiator, and he is hoping that this will shift the balance of trade talks in his favour".

    Johnson is known for his criticism of May's handling of Brexit: in June 2018, BuzzFeed leaked a recording of a closed-door gathering at the Institute of Directors in London, where the then foreign secretary expressed dissatisfaction with May's cautious and soft stance on negotiations with the EU. The very next month, Johnson resigned, stating that ministers were "saying one thing to the EU about what we are really doing, and pretending another to the electorate".

    According to Garnett, the British prime minister is "showing hard-line 'Leavers' in the UK that, unlike Mrs May, he really means business".

    "There is no doubt that the new clause in the withdrawal legislation can pass through Parliament, given Johnson's large majority", the academic says, referring to the fact that the Tories secured the 326 seats required for a majority in the House of Commons during the latest elections.

    Still, Garnett believes that "the remaining question is whether or not Johnson will be able to 'act tough' as well as 'talk tough'".

    "[Johnson] can, after all, easily repeal the legislation if the talks go badly and he is faced with the reality of 'no deal'", the professor suggests. "In the meantime, though, it is likely that the British government will make much more thorough preparations for 'no deal' than they did under Mrs May".

    Johnson's Move Came as No Surprise

    Andreas Bieler, professor of political economy at the School of Politics and International Relations of the University of Nottingham, opines that the prime minister's move "does not come as a surprise" given that Johnson "has never been worried about a no-deal Brexit scenario".

    "Many have doubted his sincerity to stick to his word and the larger than expected majority allows him now to scale back his initial commitments related to his Brexit deal", he says. "Apart from blocking the potential extension of the transition period, there are also some indications that he seems to go back on his promise that a future deal with the EU will include a guarantee of EU level workers' rights and environmental standards in the UK".

    UK PM 'Has Characteristically Chosen Reckless Bravado'

    For his part, Dr Donnacha O'Beachain, associate professor at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, insists that Johnson "has characteristically chosen reckless bravado over mature engagement with those he is compelled to negotiate as a result of the Brexit process he has so ardently pursued".

    O'Beachain, who is the author of From Partition to Brexit: The British Government and Northern Ireland", draws attention to the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement, which Johnson signed off in October, "provided for a transition period which could be extended for a further two years if required".

    "His current initiative to prohibit an extension in British domestic law simply reopens the prospect of a no-deal Brexit", the academic stresses, adding that usually trade deals with the EU take years to negotiate.

    According to O'Beachain, an alternative to a no-deal withdrawal in such a limited timeframe is to negotiate very little change, "which suggests an extremely soft Brexit that would reignite the charge of achieving Brexit in name only".

    "Boris Johnson is making the same mistake that Theresa May has made. By putting down unrealistic red lines at the beginning of the negotiating process he simply sets himself up for a fall. His recently acquired parliamentary majority may have emboldened him but it has not altered fundamental realities", the academic underscores.

    On 12 December, the Tories scored a sweeping victory over their rival Labour Party with a majority of 80 seats in the 2019 general elections. The snap vote was held at the request of Prime Minister Johnson after his withdrawal deal had not been approved by the Parliament and Brexit was yet again postponed. The majority of British lawmakers supported the idea of snap elections, which tipped the balance in favour of the "leave" camp.

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


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