Boris Johnson: Failures in crises - English

The prime minister is mishandling the pandemic and working for a no-deal Brexit

By Christa Hategan15.10.2020Europe, Media

On 31 January 2020, Britain left the European Union and it was the day the first coronavirus cases were registered. Prime minister Boris Johnson failed preparations for containing the virus in agreement with president Donald Trump. Both share an authoritarian leadership style. Both mishandled the pandemic. Besides, Boris Johnson worked towards a no-deal Brexit using the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in January, the negotiation mandate for a no-deal in February and the draft Internal Market Bill in September. The latter gives ministers the power to override the Protocol on Northern Ireland attached to the Withdrawal Agreement signed last October. Breaking international law seems acceptable to a majority in the House of Commons which passed a second reading of the Bill on 29 September 2020 and it is presently debated in the House of Lords. By contrast, the European Union, true to its co-operative leadership style, has negotiated 650 treaties, including 40 free-trade agreements, with countries around the world and expects Britain to honour its treaties. Pacta sunt servanda. If there were compliance, a future free-trade agreement would have to be negotiated in time for the European Council’s summit on 15 and 16 October 2020 and for ratification by 27 parliaments of the Member States and by the European Parliament before the end of the year.


1.) Authoritarian leadership style: Mishandling the pandemic and working for a no-deal Brexit. Since taking office in July 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson has worked towards leaving the European Union as soon as possible for a fast-track trade deal with president Donald Trump. Both tend to simplify realities to their liking and reduce political interaction to giving orders and to obeying orders. Their authoritarian leadership style was obvious, when they failed preparations for handling the coronavirus pandemic, the first part of the management cycle explains.

Besides, there was a remarkable timing for Boris Johnson: On 31 January 2020, first cases of coronavirus infected people were registered in the United Kingdom but it was really his day for celebrating Britain leaving the European Union. It was “Brexit-Day”. A transition period began for negotiating a free-trade and partnership agreement, the management cycle explains with its phases of implementation, control of implementation and revision of preparations.

Basic authoritarian characteristics: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. The Typology of political leadership styles I introduced for analysing the withdrawal agreements in 2019 describes Donald Trump’s behaviour, too ( It adds to an explorative inter-subjective testing for empirical confirmation or rejection, one of the criteria for scientific research Karl R. Popper introduced in his “Logic of Scientific Discovery” (1934). A reminder is appropriate when leaders consider their personal opinion of more consequence than decades of proven knowledge.

The Typology of political leadership styles defines two basic characteristics from which all others are derived. The first authoritarian characteristic is the “institutional authority” independent of the officeholder and independent of his performance. This implies the second one, “assumptions about subordinates”, who are morally obliged to serve the institutional authority with consent and obedience. They are supposed to lack intelligence and knowledge and need detailed instructions and constant control.

Authoritarian interdependences have a long tradition. One particular disadvantage has always shaped party politics: Insufficiently qualified and politically inexperienced candidates who win a position of importance will exercise institutional power and remain in office despite their personal and professional failures. Nowadays, the Internet and the social Media reveal faults and failures, facts and fiction.

As regards Donald Trump, he was a real-estate developer, supposedly a billionaire, and host of the reality television show “The Apprentice” before he won the Republican presidency in November 2016. Those who had served his interests with consent and obedience were to be rewarded with positions in the White House – his campaign manager Steve Bannon became a powerful Chief of Staff – and those who had contradicted and criticised him were to be punished as much as possible. Meanwhile, countless senior civil servants and high-ranking appointees have resigned or have been fired until up to Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election on 3 November 2020. By contrast, the Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden was vice-president and senator and served his country for decades. He enjoys higher approval rates than Donald Trump, across the United States as well as in some Swing States.

As regards Boris Johnson, he was mayor of London (2008 – 2016) and Foreign Secretary (2016-2018) and also journalist in Brussels, editor of The Spectator and, until recently, columnist for The Daily Telegraph. His weekly column provided a yearly income of £275 000, noted Die Welt four days before he succeeded prime minister Theresa May in office. He had to backtrack three years in order to form a government with those who had served his interests with consent and obedience during his campaign for leaving the European Union in 2016 – his campaign manager and colleague at The Spectator, Dominic Cummings, is the most powerful adviser. Meanwhile, numerous senior civil servants and high ranking appointees have resigned or have been fired for contradicting and criticising the prime minister. He can do as he likes. His Conservative party has a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons since the general election of 12 December 2019.

    1.1) Preparation of authoritarian decisions. “The party leader prepares his decisions without advice or discussion because he knows best, easily demonstrated by ignoring new insights and refusing to correct mistakes. He often blocks reforms and progress”, the definition explains.

A simple example of knowing best is the denial of management science. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson share the denial. For instance, a management cycle for handling the coronavirus pandemic would begin with planning for preparations – defining objectives, selecting means, setting timetables, projecting results, developing evaluations – for containment of the virus, called COVID-19.

Finland is an excellent example for precise planning which helped having the lowest infection rate in Europe while its economy is proving resilient, reported Richard Milne in the Financial Times of 28 September 2020. “Finland’s constitution strongly emphasises ‘the protection of life and health very high among the responsibilities of government’ … and its focus on preparedness and how to act in national emergencies.” The country’s position on the periphery of Europe is another help but, more importantly, people come together when there is a crisis.

Clear communication persuaded people to accept restrictions in their daily lives: keeping a distance of 1,5 m to others, practicing a new hygiene, wearing face coverings and, if need be, observing self-isolation or quarantine. Interrupting chains of infection at the very beginning of an exponential spread is necessary in order to achieve containment. It means mass testing for finding people with infection, tracing contacts of infected people and isolating those concerned for two weeks. It requires a local testing and tracing system and a big increase in staff, Mika Salminen, director of the Finnish expert agency on health, explained: “We hope these measures together with limited local and regional restrictions as well as increased use of masks, will diminish the second wave.” So far, new infections are kept at a low level.

Failing preparations in the United States. President Donald Trump withheld information he obtained in December 2019 about the pandemic which started in the Chinese province of Wuhan, reached neighbouring countries and Europe in January 2020. The president called it a simple winter ‘flu which would soon disappear without affecting his election campaign and the election outcome. He ignored advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), contradicted the most important advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Deseases, and fired other medical advisors. He took no notice of countries having successfully contained the virus.

While Donald Trump kept borders closed, he allowed a lockdown only for parts of the economy, apparently believing that a successful economy equals a successful election result. On his campaign trail, he ignored businesses struggling with insolvency as well as almost 10 million unemployed who saw their unemployment benefits slashed. He insisted on televised campaign rallies and people cheering him, closely packed and few with face coverings. Donald Trump was not interested in Americans coming together. He did not support State governments with additional funds for testing, tracing and interrupting chains of infection as well as for providing hospital care for infected people who needed professional treatment, including life support for the seriously ill.

The richest country in the world failed its people, especially the poor and vulnerable, on all

counts. The pandemic revealed its fault lines and exacerbates inequities. The United States

has the highest death rate in the world. There were 204 304 deaths to mourn on the 1st of

October, when Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for


Nine months into the pandemic, on 26 September 2020, the president set a disturbing example, documented on video, when he celebrated the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House – the president, his family and most guests without face coverings, guests sitting shoulder to shoulder, people shaking hands and hugging each other. Subsequently, numerous guests and staff were infected and journalists called the White House a “super spreader”, failing to comply with self-isolation and contact tracing in order to interrupt chains of infection. The video of the event, broadcast across the nation, contradicts guidelines for people to protect themselves and others.

President Donald Trump set another disturbing example when he was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Hospital in Bethesda. There is a whole floor reserved for treating presidents and when they are convalescent and want to work, there are offices equipped for handling presidential duties. But the day after admission, Donald Trump felt like taking a car ride to wave to supporters in front of the hospital, leading the usual presidential convoy with secret service men. The next day, he discharged himself in a televised return to the White House. There are contradictory reports about the state of his health.

Failing preparations in Great Britain. Public discussion started early. On 23 January 2020, the The Daily Mail‘s front-page warned: “UK ON KILLER VIRUS ALERT” and mentioned cases in “Thailand … United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan”. The first case in Britain was reported on 31 January 2020. But preparations in place were those meant for influenza. “This led to the assumption the virus could not be contained and instead had to be managed”, said Professor Devi Sridhar, chairwoman of global public health at Edinburgh University.

Prime minister Boris Johnson followed the assumption in as much as he ignored World Health Organisation (WHO) advice and encouraged the British people to get infected in order to build up “herd immunity”. He set an example by ignoring social distancing and continued to shake hands with people he met. In his press briefing on 3 March 2020, Boris Johnson talked about a recent visit to a hospital which treated infected patients: “You will be pleased to hear that I shook hands with everyone.” He would also attend large mass gatherings. At the Cheltenham races from 10 to 12 March 2020, the grandstand was packed with more than 60 000 people each day. The Premier League finished the season.

On 22 March 2020, two months after the beginning of an exponential spread of the virus, Boris Johnson ordered people to keep a distance of 2,0 meters to protect themselves and others, controlled by the police and sanctioned with fines. The next day, he ordered a national lockdown within hours but kept borders open until 9 Mai 2020 for economic reasons. London being an international hub, the virus was brought in from all over the world. Crowded buses and crowded trains from London contributed to transmission across the country. By the end of May, Britain had the highest death rate in Europe. BBC’s health correspondent Nick Triggle noted: “Death certificate mentions, which rely on the judgement of doctors, suggest the UK was actually close to 50,000 deaths.” By the end of September, a different way of counting reduced the number to 41 000 deaths.

Failing preparations marked the minds especially on 27 March 2020, when the prime minister announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for coronavirus. A British prime minister has no deputy. Moreover, he had infected those around him, though there was little information about several Cabinet Ministers, health advisers, personal advisers and staff in 10 Downing Street. When Boris Johnson was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital a week later, he spent three days in intensive care, needing non invasive oxygen treatment and, as he later recounted, “lost more than a stone in weight”. It equals “more than 6,4 kg in weight”.

After recuperating at Chequers, Boris Johnson returned to office on 27 April 2020, far too early, Sir Humphry Wakefield, father-in-law of adviser Dominic Cummings, said four months later. Mailonline quoted him on 27 August 2020 saying “that the Prime Minister is still suffering longer-term ill effects of coronavirus and could resign”. There are indeed people of all ages who survived in intensive care but suffer from a very difficult and lengthy illness, international research confirms, but it is too early for pronouncing long-term effects.

1.2) Implementation of authoritarian decisions. “The political leader implements his decisions by way of command and obedience, even if obedience is to be forced with fake news, withholding information, lies and threats”, the definition explains.

    A simple case of command and obedience is the public acceptance of political lies. When president Donald Trump took office, The Washington Post began counting his proven lies but numbers like 600 or 6 000 convey little information. It is the reality checkers who have become indispensable to those with a personal or professional interest in proven facts and reliable figures.

For instance, Twitter placed a fact check warning on Donald Trump’s tweets of 26 May 2020 when he claimed that mail-in ballots were “fraudulent” and would lead to a “rigged election”. The president answered as follows: “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” Donald Trump failed to shut down Twitter where he has more than 82 million followers. Recently, Facebook deleted election campaign advertisements because of hate messages while the video game platform Twitch closed Donald Trump’s account, temporarily, for his more than 125 000 followers. There will be no public acceptance of political lies and hate messages.

In Britain, Ros Atkins of BBC World Outside Source remarked on parallels between president Donald Trump and prime minister Boris Johnson’s campaign for the general election on 12 December 2019: “What we have seen with Donald Trump is that he repeatedly said things which we know aren’t true, which have been proven to be not true, and he keeps saying them” ( Political journalists see British democracy endangered if politicians no longer care whether their statements are true or not.

But then, it is part of the collective memory that Boris Johnson used a false weekly payment to the European Union of £350 million for his leave campaign in 2016. As regards contributions, there is indeed no such payment. Amounts vary slightly each year because of volatile exchange rates etc. but the average in 2015 and in 2016 was £152 million a week ( In any case, Boris Johnson seems to have forgotten the rebate prime minister Margaret Thatcher negotiated in Brussels, supposedly having said: “I want my money back.” There are also Public Sector Receipts to consider.

At present, it is part of the collective memory how prime minister Boris Johnson used The Daily Telegraph, as if he were still its columnist, for false statements about the  European Union. Signed “Boris Johnson UK Prime Minster”, his comment in The Telegraph maintained that the European Union is seeking “to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off … and to carve up our country … and to seriously endanger peace and stability in Northern Ireland”.

In reality, it was Boris Johnson who took Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom customs union and agreed to a border in the Irish Sea, needing infrastructure in Northern Ireland ports, as part of the Protocol on Northern Ireland attached to the Withdrawal Agreement he signed last October.

In reality, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in January was the first indicator of a no-deal Brexit, followed by a mandate for a no-deal in February and the draft United Kingdom Internal Market Bill in September 2020.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill: preventing proper negotiations. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill of 8 January 2020 makes it unlawful to extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020. It recalls the prime minister’s pledge to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019, deal or Normally, a free-trade agreement takes years to negotiate, considering the wide range of issues to settle. But then, there was never meant to be time for proper negotiations, the coronavirus pandemic confirmed. After the first round of negotiations on 2 March 2020, David Frost, the British negotiator, and Michel Barnier, Chief negotiator for the European Commission, tested positive for coronavirus and by the time the two negotiation teams were ready to continue, seven weeks had passed. The second negotiation round began on 27 April 2020 in form of a video conference. Difficult conditions were no reason to demand an extension of the transition period by 30 June 2020.

Meeting in person was possible in July but negotiations continued without significant progress. When the fifth round ended on 23 July 2020, David Frost summarized the British view for BBC World News: “And it is possible we won’t reach agreements. So we are going to work very energetically trying to do so.” It may have been a lapsus linguae, for negotiations ended on the 1st of October 2020 without a free-trade agreement. The prime minister rewarded David Frost with an appointment to the House of Lords.

The proscribed consultation between European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and prime minister Boris Johnson on 3 October 2020 recommended continuing talks. But the timetable is set, the European Parliament’s Chair of the UK Coordination Group, David McAllister, had pointed out as early as 7 June 2020 (ARD Europamagazin). A free-trade agreement has to be ready in time for the European Council’s summit on 15 and 16 October in Brussels and for subsequent scrutiny and debate in 27 parliaments of Member States and in the European Parliament by the end of the year.

    Negotiation mandate for a no-deal: misleading the European Union. On 27 February 2020, four days before negotiations began in Brussels, Boris Johnson put on the Internet a 30-page negotiation mandate called “The Future Relationship with the EU. The UK’s Approach to Negotiations”. It is not a legal text but a report to Parliament. My content analysis indicates confrontations instead of negotiations, confused statements instead of clear objectives. I have summarized the prime minister’s lack of experience as follows: “He wants a future relationship in form of a Canada-style agreement which took seven years of negotiations, or failing that, an Australian-style agreement which does not exist, and selects items from the European Union’s treaties with, in alphabetical order, Chile, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States”(

Selecting random items from treaties the European Union has negotiated with countries around the world stands for what journalists call “cherry-picking” of advantages but in reality it stands for incompetence and disadvantages. The government’s modelling in 2018 indicated a shrinking economy with an average of -7,7% of GDP over five to fifteen years, if there is no free-trade agreement. In addition, the economic recession due to the coronavirus pandemic will mean a loss of -11,5% of GDP in 2020, one of the worst in Europe, according to the Organisation of Economic and Commercial Development (OECD). Both indicators point to economic disaster.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill: breaking the Protocol on Northern Ireland. If Britain were to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union on 31 December 2020 without a free-trade agreement, World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on state aid and so on would apply as well as tariffs, regulatory barriers and quotas for about half of Britain’s exports which go to the European Union. Moreover, infrastructure for a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be required, despite the Good Friday agreement of 1998 to keep an open border.

The Protocol on Northern Ireland would be broken. However, it would be broken “in a limited and precise way”, the Secretary for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis informed the House of Commons on 7 September 2020.

Breaking international law “in a limited and precise way” was unacceptable to Theresa May, former prime minister and member of parliament. She marked the minds of viewers around the world when she stood up to Brandon Lewis at the dispatch box: “The United Kingdom government signed the Withdrawal Agreement with the Northern Ireland Protocol. This parliament voted that Withdrawal Agreement into UK legislation. The government is now changing the operation of that Agreement. Given that, how can the government reassure future international partners that the UK could be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?”

The present international partner is the European Union and the next legal obligations concern a future free-trade agreement, but there is no longer trust in the government’s reassurances. Compounding problems is Britain’s exit from 650 treaties, including 40 free-trade agreements, the European Commission has negotiated with countries around the world, noted Wladimir Garcin-Berson on 3 February 2020 ( Britain will need trust for negotiating new treaties.

Britain will also need to consider the impact of WTO rules on treaties, BBC’s Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris pointed out as early as 16 June 2020: “Under the WTO’s ‘most favoured nation’ rules, the UK couldn’t lower tariffs just for the EU (or any specific country) without doing so for the rest of the world, unless it had agreed a trade deal, or as part of a transition to that deal.”

Leaving the European Union for WTO rules and breaking the Protocol on Northern Ireland may have its drawbacks but the draft Internal Market Bill passed its first reading on 14 September and its second reading on 29 September 2020 and is presently scrutinized and debated in the House of Lords.

1.3) Control of authoritarian implementation. “The political leader is exempt from all forms of control. But he will apply all forms of control to subordinates. They are supposed to need detailed checks on their carrying out orders with consent an obedience”, the definition explains.

Exercising control is a form of exercising power. Prime minister Boris Johnson is exempt from controls of implementation. There is no parliamentary control either, regarding the modified Withdrawal Agreement Bill. The provision that parliament had approval of future relations with the European Union was deleted. Even the traditional control of the government, for all to see during the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQ), when the opposition expects answers on public issues, has lost much of its purpose.

For instance, on 22 September 2020, the Leader of the Labour party Sir Keir Starmer reminded the prime minister of the promise to have testing and tracing capacities increased by autumn but at present the centralized service is not functioning. When Ben Bradshaw, MP for Labour, took up the need for local services, a disturbing exchange was documented on BBC World News Outside Source.

MP for Labour Ben Bradshaw: “Does he think that the reason Germany and Italy have far lower Covid rates than us with life continuing more or less normally, might be because they have locally and publicly run test and trace services that actually work?”

Prime minister Boris Johnson: “No, Mr. Speaker, I don’t. And I think that continuing attacks on our local test and trace and what the – ah – NHS test and trace have done – ah – ah – are undermining and unnecessary. And, actually, there is an important difference between – ah – our country and many countries around the world, that is, our country is a freedom loving country, Mr. Speaker. And if you look at the history of this country over the last 300 years – ah – virtually every advance in from free speech to democracy – ah – to – ah – have been – ah – has come from this has come from this country and it is very difficult to ask the British population – ah – uniformly to obey – ah –  to obey at guidelines in a way that it is necessary.”

A few days later, guidelines for restricting personal contacts to “the rule of six”, a response to 13 000 new infections per day, were incomprehensible to the prime minister and two cabinet ministers: they were unable to explain them to the BBC.

    1.4) Revised preparation of authoritarian decisions. If there had been a parliamentary control of the prime minister’s implementations, there might have been revised preparations. For instance, breaking the Protocol on Northern Ireland might have been reconsidered. At present, the government’s general view prevails, succinctly put by BBC’s political correspondent Rob Watson: “The government’s response to all of this has been … in many ways a shrug of the shoulders because they think that many of their supporters may take the view: Well, if the government is upsetting a few lawyers, a few bureaucrats and a few people in Brussels, so be it. That is what we are like.” According to the authoritarian law of the strongest, the European Union is supposed to submit readily to Britain’s demands.

2.) Co-operative leadership style: across parties consent in the House of Commons. The first characteristic of the co-operative leadership style is still the “institutional authority” but the officeholder has to justify it with his qualifications, his professional expertise, his professional experience and so on. His personal authority has to replace institutional authority. This implies the second characteristic, “assumptions about subordinates”. They are supposed to be intelligent and knowledgeable enough to take on responsibilities. Also, those inferior in rank will accept merited authority with consent and commitment.

The political leader believes in working relationships on equal terms. He will co-operate with those of inferior rank, knowing that trust and unity of purpose are essential for sustainable team work. For instance, the European Council needs to practice a modern co-operative leadership style in order to arrive at unanimous decisions.

Another example is the House of Commons. Last year, members prepared legislation in a co-operative leadership style in order to counteract the prime minister ‘s pledge to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019, deal or no-deal (

    2.1) Preparation of co-operative decisions. “The political leader prepares decisions with advice from his staff and discussion with those concerned. He will reconcile conflicting interests and work out sustainable compromises in order to achieve consent and commitment for his projects. This may take considerable time, effort and cost, but those who have been part of preparations will be more committed to ensure a successful implementation than those who have not been consulted”, the definition explains.

Members of parliament worked together with trust and unity of purpose, though the public is informed when preparations are complete. When prime minister Boris Johnson returned from the European Council’s summit of 17 and 18 October 2019, having signed the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Northern Ireland, preparations were completed for an extraordinary session of the House of Commons on Saturday, 19 October 2019.

 2.2) Implementation of co-operative decisions. “The political leader will implement decisions in accordance with preparations and team work. The free exchange of information and ideas will encourage innovation and progress” the definition explains.

Implementation is just as good or just as bad as preparations have been. For instance, Sir Oliver Letwin, MP for the Conservative party, had tabled an amendment saying that the Withdrawal Agreement must be voted into domestic law before Brexit can be done, which means several weeks of parliamentary work. It was an amendment to the law Hilary Benn, Labour MP, had passed saying the prime minister must seek a delay to the departure from the European Union, if he had not secured parliamentary approval for a Withdrawal Agreement or a no-deal departure by 19 October 2019. It is to be noted that Sir Oliver Letwin was one of the 21 members of parliament Boris Johnson expelled from the Conservative party because they had voted for the so-called Benn act. They joined the Independents, supporting the Conservative party.

2.3) Control of co-operative implementation. “Control is part of the co-operative leadership style and an indispensable, not delegable duty of the political leader. It ensures leadership in delegated areas. Apart from controlling object matters, personal leadership will be controlled, too”, the definition explains.

    Control of implementation was easy: votes were counted. The Letwin amendment to the Benn act had an across parties majority: Yes: 322 votes and No: 306 votes.

2.4) Revision of co-operative preparations. A new and improved management cycle stands for team work to be continued and for contributions to reforms and progress. But an across parties co-operation in the national interest will be limited to this special occasion, Sir Oliver Letwin pointed out when he commented on the vote: “I want to say to friends and collegues across the House who helped us achieve this amendment which I believe profoundly to be in the national interest, I am very grateful for that co-operation. But our ways now must part.”

Revisions included Boris Johnson asking the European Council for an extension, granted until 31 January 2020, though he had pledged never to do so, as well as the refusal of his “rapid timetable” which gave parliament three days for scrutiny, committee work and tabling amendments to the so-called “Brexit Bill”. On 22 September 2019, an across parties majority voted: No: 322 votes and Yes: 308 votes. The prime minister suspended legislation, suspended Brexit and blamed parliament.

About a year later, the House of Commons and the House of Lords are again debating a no-deal Brexit and consequences for the lives, the jobs and the well-being of the British people, all the more so because of the coronavirus pandemic. It reveals society’s fault lines and exacerbates inequities.

    3.) Mix of political leadership styles. Highly qualified and experienced political leaders practice a mix of authoritarian and co-operative leadership styles according to requirements of the occasion. The European Commission’s occasion is negotiating a free-trade agreement in times of the coronavirus pandemic with a difficult British side in time for the European Council’s summit on 15 and 16 October 2020. Michel Barnier and his team have reduced difficulties to three areas of disagreement: fisheries, state aid in Northern Ireland and a robust mechanism for litigation, should agreements be broken. There is the offer of co-operative consultations. There may be hope, too, that Michel Barnier and his team will handle a contradiction in terms: a last-minute free-trade agreement.

Again, the European Commission has an unequivocal demand: treaties must be honoured. Pacta sunt servanda. This goes for the Withdrawal Agreement and the attached Protocol on Northern Ireland, too. The British government had until the end of September to remove the problematic provisions from its Internal Market Bill. But on the 1st of October 2020, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had to announce at a press conference in Brussels: “This morning, the Commission has decided to send a Letter of Formal Notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure. The Letter invites the UK government to send its observations within a month. And besides this, the Commission will continue to work hard towards the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments.”

If  the United Kingdom should leave the Single Market and Customs Union on 31 December 2020 without a free-trade agreement with the European Union, there is no doubt about responsibilities.





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