British PM is planning billions for Brexit fight

Boris Johnson’s new government is working on the assumption that Britain will leave the European Union without a deal on October 31 and is set to ramp up borrowing to cover the costs, ministers have said.
Chancellor Sajid Javid, promoted in the PM’s brutal cabinet reshuffle, revealed the government’s plans to fund no-deal measures, such as hiring extra border security guards. There will be a massive public information campaign on the implications of a no-deal Brexit.
Newly installed chief secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, said that the extra money would come from the government’s “fiscal headroom” — the amount the UK can borrow and still keep debt falling as a share of GDP, which ministers claim is around £26 billion. The extra borrowing is part of Johnson’s efforts to fulfil his leadership pledge to deliver Brexit by the end of October “come what may”.
Michael Gove, who is now overseeing no-deal preparations as head of the Cabinet Office, said that planning for no deal was the government’s “number one priority”. He said he hoped the EU will change its mind and reopen negotiations on the deal that former prime minister Theresa May failed to push through the House of Commons three times. “But we must operate on the assumption that they (EU) will not,” he said.
Gove added that “every penny needed for no-deal preparation will be made available.” Sunak said: “We can afford this because there has been some very careful management of the economy.” Lower borrowing and higher tax receipts led ex-chancellor Philip Hammond to highlight the government’s capacity to borrow more and still meet its budget targets.
However, a no-deal exit could cost more than this, according to the UK’s budget watchdog. Last week, it warned that leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement could lead to a borrowing binge of £30bn a year to offset falling tax receipts. Sunak said the government will hire more border force guards, invest in new IT infrastructure and launch a public information campaign, among other measures, as part of its no-deal planning. The statement of intent from Johnson’s new ministers was accompanied by a “Boris bounce” in the polls.
The PM earned the Tories a 10-point jump in one poll, and a six-point boost in another poll, seeing the party overtake the Labour party. Yet not all Conservatives were impressed by the government’s willingness to accept a disorderly Brexit. The leader of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, said that if it comes to a no-deal Brexit, “I won’t support it”. Davidson is far from alone, with fresh reports also emerging over last weekend of Hammond’s strategy to thwart a no-deal scenario.
But Johnson remains determined to his agenda. He fired the first shots in a new Brexit battle with the EU on the first full day as Prime Minister. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier branded Johnson’s position “combative” and “unacceptable” after the new PM held nothing back in telling MPs in his first speech on taking office that the Irish backstop protocol must be stripped out of the withdrawal agreement.
He lambasted the deal negotiated by his predecessor saying: “No country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self-government as this backstop does.”
Outgoing EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker flagged Brussel’s concerns to reiterate the deal negotiated by Theresa May is the “best and only agreement possible.”
Putting aside for a moment the enormity of the challenges facing the new Prime Minister and ignoring, briefly, the vulnerability of his government and the divisions over Brexit, it is good to see the positivity that comes from Johnson. He dares to exude optimism and confidence. He has pledged to sweep away the “doomsters” and gloomsters” and vows that “people who bet against Britain (in the Brexit issue) are going to lose their shirts.”
Johnson claims Britain is on the fringes of “a new golden age”. Some may not share his confidence, but they should recognise that to millions of people the arrival of Johnson in Downing Street represents the first time in three years (since the referendum) that they’ve seen someone at the top of government express a bit of positivity. This counts for something, and those keen to write-off Johnson’s chances should reflect on it.
(The author is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at andyjalil@aol.com)