Johnson victory means Brexit is coming, tough talks loom

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson campaigned on one theme alone — “Get Brexit done.” His sweeping victory in Thursday’s election means that could now happen within weeks.

Even before his Conservative Party had officially crossed the winning line Friday, Johnson said it looked like his party had “a powerful new mandate” to complete Britain’s divorce from the European union.

Johnson now looks certain to pull Britain out of the EU by the Jan. 31 deadline, but he will still face the mountainous challenge of negotiating a complex trade deal with the EU by the end of next year — a task that many experts say is not possible.

So far Johnson’s Brexit plan, negotiated with the EU in October, has not been approved by British lawmakers. He has vowed to put the bill before the new Parliament shortly after its members are sworn in next week, with passage likely in early January unless some unforeseen snags develop.

Johnson has said every Conservative Party candidate who was seeking election had agreed to back his Brexit bill. That means he can win enactment of the bill despite vocal opposition from the smaller parties in Parliament. The Labour Party, the pro-EU Scottish National Party and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats do not have the numbers to derail the Brexit bill.

Johnson’s large majority leaves him well-positioned to get Britain out of the EU by the end of January, making good on the results of a 2016 referendum, but little would change immediately, since the agreement includes a transition period for the U.K. to negotiate a new trade arrangement with the EU.

During the transition, Britain would continue to follow EU rules and regulations, and freedom of movement between EU nations and Britain would continue. There would be few if any visible changes.

Trade talks would likely begin shortly after Britain formally leaves the bloc, and both sides would be expected to decide by the end of June if an extension is needed so talks can continue past the deadline at the end of 2020.

Evercore analyst Krishna Guha warned that significant Brexit-related risks loom.

“The subsequent phase of negotiations on future trading relations with the EU holds significant risks including of a hard exit at the end of 2020 if Johnson does not pivot to seek an extension of the transition period and an agreement cannot be reached in 12 months,” the analyst wrote.

Johnson, however, has repeatedly pledged that Britain will not seek an extension of the transition period, raising the prospect that Britain could “crash out” of the current trading regime without a new one in place.

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, who fought unsuccessfully to complete Britain’s divorce from the EU, believes Johnson can clear that hurdle. She told the BBC that, “actually an awful lot of work on that has already been done.”

European leaders suggested this week that the timetable is virtually impossible to meet. Most experts think it would take longer than one year for the two sides to reach a comprehensive trade accord.

EU Council President Charles Michel promised that on the second day of a summit Friday, leaders meeting in Brussels will send a “strong message” to the next British government and parliament about what the EU wants to do next on Brexit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “we are ready to negotiate” to get out of the Brexit stalemate.


Alex Veiga in Los Angeles contributed.


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Gregory Katz, The Associated Press