Johnson’s Brexit challenge: PM has no plan to operationalise it
The final act of Brexit is in the hands of its original author with Boris Johnson’s ascension to the British prime ministership. There is no evidence Johnson has any better idea of how to seamlessly bring Britain out of the European Union than his hapless predecessor, Theresa May. He has said he will hold to the October 31st deadline for Britain’s formal departure from the EU. He has rejected the Brexit deal that May had worked out with Brussels. But the EU greeted Johnson’s election by saying it was not interested in renegotiating. He himself has rejected a “no deal” Brexit. All of this indicates the new prime minister will cross the river by feeling the stones along the way. The only thing that seems certain: Johnson’s sees his political mandate as implementing Brexit, and he will do so in some fashion or another.
India has not been enthusiastic about Brexit, seeing it as an additional complication to an already unstable international situation. A Brexit that excludes a customs union will be financially damaging to the many Indian firms who have set up shop in Britain. Yet there may be some minor advantages in a post-Brexit Britain. For example, Britain will need to negotiate free trade agreements with major non-European partners after it leaves the EU. This gives India a fair amount of leverage when it comes to deciding the terms of such an agreement. When May tried to explore this possibility during her visits to India, it was made clear that New Delhi would expect major concessions on immigration in return. Johnson will face the same demands, and it will be a test of his political leadership whether he can sell expanded immigration to his party.
A London that reorients itself away from Brussels in terms of trade, migration and possibly security will have benefits for India. No one should expect a return to the days of Commonwealth privilege. A newer India-UK relationship will have to be slowly constructed from the debris of Brexit, perhaps that looks to exploiting London’s financial skills and New Delhi’s desperate need for capital or expanding the already existing bonds in education and technology. But the shadow of Brexit uncertainty will have to be lifted first. It is on that Prime Minister Johnson, the leader of a minority government and a person with minimal experience of high office, will be judged.