Brexit Bulletin Extra: Johnson Turns on the Charm

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Brexit is 65 days away.

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit:  Boris Johnson returns from his debut on the world stage buoyant — but with problems mounting.

What’s Happening? Boris Johnson turned on the charm at the G-7, barely putting a foot wrong on his international summit debut. In the sunshine of the French seaside resort of Biarritz, the British prime minister made it clear that he sees eye-to-eye with his European counterparts on a host of issues, from Iran to Russia to trade, and charmed his hosts with typical bonhomie. This followed last week’s good-natured meetings on Brexit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

This stuff matters. With slightly more than two months before Johnson has pledged to take the U.K. out of the EU “do or die,” the prime minister needs these people onside. His predecessor, Theresa May, never quite managed it. The conundrum of the Irish border “backstop” looks as intractable as ever — the EU says it’s essential, Johnson says it must be removed.

And yet the prime minister’s performance has shifted the dial slightly. Whether it’s merely a looming realization about what a no-deal departure would actually mean for all sides, or a willingness by negotiators to try one final push to get a deal over the line, there is a bit less pessimism out there than there was when we sent our last Brexit Bulletin almost a month ago.

Brexit Bulletin Extra: Johnson Turns on the Charm

That’s not to say it will be easy, and officials on both sides still rate a no-deal departure as the most likely outcome. Despite the handshakes and smiles, it’s wrong to suggest that Merkel, Macron or European Council President Donald Tusk have conceded anything other than an openness to keep talking. Tusk’s team spoke almost glowingly about Johnson’s constructive spirit on all things non-Brexit. But on the contentious parts of the exit deal, there was nothing to say and there were no new ideas.

Johnson flew home knowing that his short tour of Berlin, Paris and Biarritz (and even his breakfast with U.S. President Donald Trump, in which he gently made the case for open trade) had gone as well as expected. But Parliament returns from recess on Sept. 3, bringing with it possible no-confidence votes, the need to find a real solution to the backstop, and potentially even a general election. There are far greater challenges to come as August slips into September.

Like Parliament, the Brexit Bulletin will be back from recess on Tuesday, Sept. 3. 

Today’s Must-Reads

  • Johnson went for a morning swim in the Atlantic before diving into the summit. As Alex Morales writes, he saw plenty of Brexit analogies.
  • Brexit wasn’t even really a sideshow at the G-7, instead it was all about Macron’s audacious bid to take the lead on the Iran crisis.
  • The U.S.-U.K. relationship is creating a serious and imminent risk to the EU, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez writes in the Financial Times.

Brexit in Brief

Pint Plunge | The beer isn’t flowing like it used to in Spain’s tourist hotspots, and Brexit is part of the problem. Sterling’s decline has made U.K. travelers even more price sensitive this summer holiday season, pushing some to choose cheaper beach destinations like Turkey and Egypt.

Pay Please | In a no-deal scenario, the U.K. would be expected to continue to honor all financial commitments, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva reiterated yesterday. “It is important to make clear that settling accounts is essential to starting off a relationship on the right foot based on mutual trust,” she said.

Brexit Bulletin Extra: Johnson Turns on the Charm

No Poll | Johnson is not planning to call a general election on Oct. 17, as reported by U.K. media, according to a senior British official speaking on condition of anonymity. The official also said the premier is not attracted to the idea of suspending parliament to stop it from potentially trying to stop a no deal.

Telling Porkies? | On his way to the G-7, Johnson said that any U.K.-U.S. trade agreement should including scrapping red tape around products such as the Great British favorite, the pork pie, which he said was exported to Thailand and Iceland. The trouble is, they’re not exported to those countries — according to the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association at least.

Wrong Messages | Johnson told his fellow European leaders at the G-7 that they should not rely on parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit, according to the FT. “He thinks that European leaders should not be listening to the very wrong messages emerging from some parliamentarians who think they will stop Brexit,” a Downing Street official is quoted as saying.

Want to keep up with Brexit?

You can follow us @Brexit on Twitter and join our Facebook group, Brexit Decoded

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