Britain’s former man in Brussels added the PM’s ongoing attempts to reopen divorce negotiations with the EU and scrap the Irish border backstop were unrealistic. “Boris Johnson isn’t interested in numbers: he doesn’t believe in them,” Sir Ivan Rogers told France’s L’Express magazine in a reference to the cost of a hard Brexit. Sir Rogers, who served as EU ambassador from 2013 to 2017, also slammed calls for a new Brexit deal with the EU as unrealistic, before adding ex-premier Theresa May was “more experienced than Mr Johnson when she arrived at 10 Downing Street”.
The former diplomat has repeatedly sounded alarm bells over the impact of a hard Brexit, warning last September that both sides risked “sleepwalking into a major crisis” that could poison UK-EU relations.
The current Brexit deadline is October 31, a date Mr Johnson has promised to respect “no matter what,” even if that means pulling the UK out of the EU without a deal or suspending parliament.
The Conservative leader has exerted maximum pressure on Brussels in recent months in a bid to force EU leaders to reopen divorce talks, warning in June he would withhold a previously agreed £39 billion Brexit payment until London gets a better deal.
“The money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward,” he told the Sunday Times.
He added: “I always thought it was extraordinary that we should agree to write that entire check before having a final deal. In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant.”
The £39 billion pounds represent outstanding British liabilities to the EU to be paid over a number of years.
Brussels has warned that failure to pay the Brexit bill would be equivalent to a sovereign debt default.
Mr Johnson wants the Irish border backstop – the most hotly contested element of the current divorce pact – to be struck out if there is to be a deal with the bloc.
Conservative lawmakers fear that the backstop, which would avoid checks on Northern Ireland’s border by keeping the UK in a temporary customs union with the EU, is a backdoor way of binding Britain to EU rules after Brexit.
The EU has said guarantees to keep the border open between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland are an essential part of the withdrawal agreement, which it refuses to reopen.
The Sun newspaper said on Monday that Mr Johnson believes the EU will cave in at the last minute and agree to drop the backstop to “save Ireland,” citing a source. But the EU has not yet confirmed this claim.
Many investors fear that Mr Johnson’s Brexit gamble could trigger a messy divorce, which in turn could dent global growth, tip Britain’s economy into recession and weaken London’s position as an international financial hub.
In June, the First Vice President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) warned that the EU would also be pushed into recession in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“Even a recession is possible. [A no-deal Brexit] might be one possible trigger, there might be many more which we do not foresee at this time,” said Jurgen Rigterink.
Brexit supporters say there may be some short-term disruption from a no-deal exit, but that the British economy will thrive once the UK is no longer chained to EU rules and is able to strike its own trade deals with other world powers, including the US.