When Britain’s new prime minister receives command of Theresa May on Wednesday, he will immediately regret taking on this unenviable job.
The new occupant of No. 10 Downing Street will have only one task: to achieve what May could not and to specify Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two men competing to replace May, say they can not only achieve a new Brexit agreement, but they can also convince enough lawmakers in the House of Commons to vote for it.
It is an unlikely claim, even at first sight. The last deadline for Brexit is October 31, which apparently gives a new British government a little more than three months to achieve what May did not accomplish in three years.
But if we delve into the details, the reality is that there is less time. Take into account the parliamentary recess (legislators also need vacations). Then there are three weeks, more or less, during the fall when the House of Commons does not meet to allow political parties to hold their annual conferences. We add on weekends and that leaves us approximately 30 days of parliamentary time to force a vote on the agreement and all the legislation required to get Britain out of the EU.
So how do the two candidates plan to do better than May?
Both men say they can get Brussels to change the agreement reached in May with the EU, formally known as the Withdrawal Agreement. In order to win over Brexit-like rebels in their own Conservative Party, this new agreement would have to scrap or change a controversial section of the agreement known as the Irish border barrier.
Brexit promoters claim that if London took a harder line and threatened to leave the EU without an agreement, Brussels would be scared and give in. But there is little evidence that the EU is in favor of granting significant concessions to a new prime minister. Some take advantage of the words of Ursula von der Leyen, the future president of the European Commission, who said she would extend the term of Brexit if there were “good reasons” to do so. The MEP of the Brexit Party, Lance Foreman, said on Twitter that this showed that the EU was afraid of a negative outcome, which “strengthens our influence in the negotiations.”
Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s just an illusion. The only certainty is that von der Leyen will not hold office until November 1, which seasoned readers will notice is after October 31. Besides, it doesn’t depend on her.
If the EU refuses to make changes, both men have said they are willing to withdraw without an agreement, which worries many across the political spectrum.
Of the two candidates, the favorite, Boris Johnson, has been the most open regarding a Brexit without agreement. He has repeatedly said that his goal was to leave the EU “yes or yes” on October 31. And without an agreement that Parliament can accept, that means it would be without agreement.