For the EU, Johnson's exit won't change much;  damage already done

BRUSSELS (AP) — From his days stoking anti-European Union sentiment with exaggerated newspaper stories, to his populist campaign that led Britain to leave the bloc and renege on the post-Brexit trade deal it signed, the outgoing Prime Minister of the United Kingdom boris johnson has been the nightmare of Brussels for so many years.

Such was his impact on the breakdown of ties between Britain and the EU that after Johnson was forced to announce on Thursday that he would leave office, the news brought little public jubilation in EU circles. Instead, there was only the callous acceptance of the inevitable and the resignation that things will never be the same again.

“I won’t miss him,” French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said, highlighting an open disdain not seen since Europeans welcomed Donald Trump’s defeat in the US election in 2020. And while transatlantic relations are quickly recovered since the arrival of President Joe Biden, don’t expect anything like that with a new British leaderpoliticians and experts said.

“Even with a new prime minister, I think there will probably be little change in the British government’s position” on the main Brexit issues causing the current divisions, said David McAllister, the top EU lawmaker dealing with the UK.

Guy Verhofstadt, who was the EU’s leading parliamentarian for the entire brexit divorce proceedings, said Johnson’s impact was such that there is little or no chance another Conservative prime minister could take a fundamentally different course.

“No one is under any illusions that Johnson’s departure from Downing Street will resolve any of the underlying problems in the UK-EU relationship,” Verhofstadt wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian. “The damage that the outgoing prime minister did, through the project that he instrumentalized to come to power, is still alive.”

The UK has always been a lukewarm EU member since joining the bloc in 1973. When Johnson joined the Brussels press corps some three decades ago, he often wowed his local readers with stories that had two main elements: : they put the EU in the darkest of lights, and had little connection with reality.

As a Conservative politician, he put his weight in the 2016 referendum on UK EU membership behind the arguments for leaving the bloc. Johnson used his easygoing manner and wisecracking style to sell the benefits of withdrawing from the EU, sometimes without regard to the facts. He was key to the Brexit campaign’s victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum vote.

Yet the disdain never ran deeper than earlier this year when he began to move towards unilaterally rewriting parts of the post-Brexit deal he signed with the 27-nation bloc. The deal established a special system in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, so trade with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, could continue without establishing a hard border.

“I was there face to face with him. Line by line, comma by comma, and he doesn’t want to respect it,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier recalled on Friday, still bemused by Johnson’s tactics.

“The reputational damage has been enormous for a country and a society that has long prided itself on its deep ‘My word is my bond’ culture without even a written contract, let alone an international treaty,” said Michael Emerson of the Center for the European Union. Policy studies.

The bill to unilaterally rip up the trade deal in Northern Ireland is still in the House of Commons, and there remains some lingering hope that London might step back.

“They have this law in parliament, so they are taking steps in that direction. But they have not crossed the line,” said Jan Lipavský, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency and is better known in English as the Czech Republic.

However, a quick look at possible contenders taking charge does not inspire hope of any fundamental change, as it includes a number of Conservatives who have spent years immersed in Johnson’s Brexit confrontational strategies.

“If you look at the possible successors, there is no one who fundamentally breaks the Brexit line,” said Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, the Netherlands. “The Conservative Party has a dominant core on Brexit that they will have to convince to become prime minister.”

Although the early years of Brexit have yielded anything but the largesse Johnson promised, any possible quest to return the UK to the EU is also out of the question as the main opposition Labor Party now focuses on making the most of it. the Brexit. situation instead.

Not that the EU even wants to welcome the country with open arms.

With Ukraine, economic problems caused by inflation and migration problems, “his plate is full,” Korteweg said. “They’re not really looking forward to talks with the British, who will be looking for exceptions and exemptions anyway,” he said.

Barnier, who led the EU in Brexit talks for years, doesn’t see that happening either.

“It is not an issue that concerns us,” Barnier said on Sud Radio. “Frankly, what we need is a frame of mind where the British government respects the treaties it negotiated.”


Samuel Petrequin reported from Prague. Jill Lawless in London and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.


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