Ivan Rogers on "nonsense" predictions and why Johnson will not pivot to a softer Brexit

Britain’s former man in Brussels says the PM’s large majority will not necessarily trigger a change in direction

December 13, 2019
Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images
Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

Boris Johnson is unlikely to use his new majority to pivot to a softer Brexit, the UK’s former permanent representative to the European Union has told Prospect.

Ivan Rogers, who famously resigned in 2017 in protest at the government’s Brexit approach, said in comments over email: “I keep hearing commentariat pundits suggesting that the scale of the majority enables Johnson to pivot to a softer Brexit and a longer period during which to negotiate it.

“This wrongly assumes that this is his preference, and that such a deal could be negotiated with the EU. We shall see, but I think neither will prove true.” In fact, this reading could even turn out to be “nonsense.”

Rogers has frequently made headlines since he stepped down, with withering interventions criticising lack of realism on Brexit—the most recent of which was published in full in Prospect.

He told me this morning: “I think an election has been inevitable for several months, and a sizeable Tory victory in that election inevitable since it was called.”

That majority, 80 seats, arguably means Johnson can pursue whichever Brexit strategy he chooses. Some say the path of least resistance is a softer exit, leaving early next year and then negotiating a close trade relationship during the transition. This would lessen the economic disruption and the Brexit hardliners will not have the numbers to stop him.

Rogers’s alternative prediction will be noted across the UK political spectrum. He added “Brussels and many capitals will welcome the clarity of the result. But partly because they see the opportunity to strike a quick and dirty tariff- and quota-free deal, involving stringent level playing field conditions and an agreement on fisheries—their key objectives, not the UK’s—next year, deferring other issues until later.”

What this means is that the EU will be “sequencing the negotiations again to maximise their leverage. How Johnson deals with that will, in practice, define his first year in office.”

Prospect will be covering the fallout of the election over the coming days, including further analysis of what the outcome means for Brexit.