James Kirkup James Kirkup

Ivan Rogers is wrong about Boris Johnson

Sir Ivan Rogers missed his calling. Our former envoy to the EU would have made a fine newspaper columnist, albeit one who struggled to file to length. His ability to capture the big issues of the Brexit process and make a compelling argument about what happens next is quite something, and explains why a Rogers intervention always gets people talking.

His latest contribution is a long speech arguing that Boris Johnson is heading for a fall in late 2020 when the UK’s Brexit transition period ends and the country faces three options:

1) Conclude a trade deal with the EU
2) Fully leave the EU without a deal
3) Contrive a way to extend the transition and keep talking about a deal.

Rogers dismisses option 3) and argues that the real choice will therefore be between a) a thin, harmful trade deal tipped heavily in the EU’s favour, and b) the no-deal Brexit that has so animated politics this year.

I have nothing to say about Rogers’ analysis of the UK-EU dynamic next year, or his assessment of outcomes a) and b) – the man knows his stuff, after all.

But I do have to quibble with his assessment of the domestic politics and the room for manoeuvre available to a re-elected Prime Minister Johnson. Could he break his explicit manifesto promise not to extend the transition period next year? I think Rogers is not so much underestimating Johnson’s willingness to break promises but overestimating the costs he would face from doing so.

In the Rogers’ analysis, the re-elected PM would be under the thumb of Tory hardliners:

‘He further knows that the Right, which will have been strengthened inside his Party if he has won the election, will decry an extension as an intolerable prolongation of vassalage.’

I don’t think this is true.

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