The “Borexit”: what will be the future relationship between the UK and the Eu?

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After months of tensions, scandals, and resignations of several ministers, on the 7th of July 2022, the United Kingdom saw the end of Boris Johnson’s government. During the last short and significant speech, the prime minister announced that he will step down from his role when a replacement is found. The news from London has provoked a reaction around Europe and among the Eu institutions due to the potential effects that this decision can be on the relationship between the UK and the Eu, especially after Brexit.

The end of Boris Johnson’s government 

1079 days: this is the full length of Boris Johnson’s government. Since 2019, the leader of Tories has led the UK policy through drastic decisions, a huge populist mind, and different nonformal declarations, typically of his personality. 

Thanks to Brexit, Boris Johnson was able to establish himself significantly on the British political scene until the point of replacing the outgoing prime minister Theresa May, who was unable to conclude the process of the UK’s exit from the European Union. On the other hand, during Johnson’s government, Great Britain and the EU reached an agreement on their future relationship at the end of 2020, including an agreement on the Trade and Cooperation field, which lead to the United Kingdom’s official exit from the Eu system[1].   

Despite the long-awaited return to full sovereignty, the last years have shown several problems; from the economic and trade difficulties due to the leave of the Eu market to the more complicated recruitment of skilled workers and the difficulty concerning the fish field (seeing the “war” with France), the Johnson government’s aggressive and impartial strategy has concretely failed[2].  

Furthermore, the last events (pandemic, social and labor restrictions, economic decrease, the Ukraine war, etc.) and, above all, the personal scandals that affected the UK cabinet (the “Partygate”, the “Pincher affair” and, etc.) have caused a true “hurricane” in Westminster. As a consequence, there have been several resignations such as those of the health secretary Sajid Javid and chancellor Rishi Sunak that represented the tipping point for the prime minister. On the 7th of July, speaking in front of the famous 10 Downing Street door, Boris Johnson stated with mildly argumentative that “it is clear now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore, a new prime minister”[3]

The succession battle: Rishi Sunak vs Liz Truss

The fall of Boris Johnson has opened the battle for the succession among the Tories; after many days, on Wednesday 20th July, the final Conservative lawmaker vote concluded that former finance minister Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss will battle it out to become Britain’s next prime minister. Therefore, Conservative Party members will have time until the beginning of September to express their preference through a postal vote, and the final result will be announced on the 5th of September. 

Both former members of Johnson’s executive, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have different views on the future UK policy. On the one hand, Sunak, as a former chancellor has promised to reduce taxes but only after “we have gripped inflation”, as well as to maintain defense spending at 2% of GDP. On the other hand, Truss has promised to change immediately taxes to make it easier for people to stay at home to care for children or elderly relatives and she has announced an increase in defense spending to 2.5% of GDP[4].

The intensive run to Westminster became clear as early as the first televised debate between the two Conservative candidates, where both tried to convince the audience and, at the same time, destabilize the opponent. In particular, Sunak accused Truss to be a former supporter of the “remain” in the Brexit context and being economically illiterate, as well as pronouncing a “golden era” with China, nevertheless the high-security risk from Beijing. Instead, Truss denounced Sunak to be one of the main makers of Johnson’s fall and raised taxes to their highest level in 70 years. Moreover, there was no shortage of personal attacks from both sides during the debate[5].

What will change in the UK-Eu relationship?

Could the new prime minister improve the troubled UK-Eu relationship? This has been one of the most widespread questions that experts and politicians of various levels have been asking after the news of the end of Boris Jonson’s government. For instance, according to one of the former Eu negotiators of Brexit Michel Barnier, “The departure of Boris Johnson opens a new page in relations with Britain. May it be more constructive, more respectful of commitments made, in particular regarding peace & stability in Northern Ireland, and more friendly with partners in the EU. Because there’s so much more to be done together”[6]

Nevertheless, the current situation seems to be far from a new reconciliation with the Eu institutions; first of all, neither the Labour nor pro-European Liberal Democrats plan to campaign for EU membership or the single market membership[7]. Secondly, both Sunak and Truss are the true “Brexiteers” and will try to conceal all the negative consequences due to leaving the European Union (seeing the issues concerning the delays and the long queues at the Port of Dover). Finally, the more formal character of the future UK prime minister won’t change the huge differences and contrasts with Bruxelles, as the recent Commission infringement proceeding against the UK for breaking international law and the North Ireland Protocol has shown.

To sum up, the future government in Great Britain may replace the populism slogan and tones of Johnson’s executive but unlikely it will improve the relationship with the Eu because Brexit has represented a real point of non-return.   


[1] The European Commission, “Eu-United Kingdom Trade and Cooperation Agreement”, available on https://policy.trade.ec.europa.eu/eu-trade-relationships-country-and-region/countries-and-regions/united-kingdom/eu-united-kingdom-agreement_en

[2] Helm T., McKie R., Tapper J., Inman P., “What have we done?: six years on, UK counts the cost of Brexit”, The Guardian, 25thJune 2022, available on https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jun/25/what-have-we-done-six-years-on-uk-counts-the-cost-of-brexit  

[3] Guy J., McGee L., Kottasová I., “UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigns after mutiny in his party”, The CNN, 8th July, available on https://edition.cnn.com/2022/07/07/europe/boris-johnson-resignation-intl/index.html

[4] “Conservative leadership: Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak policy guide”, the BBC, available on https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-60037657  

[5] Syal R., Quinn B., Elgot J., « Truss and Sunak trade blows in acrimonious first TV debate”, The Guardian, 25th July, available on https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/25/truss-sunak-trade-blows-tv-debate-tory-leadership

[6] “Bruxelles hopeful yet wary on UK ties after Johnson exit”, EURACTIV, 8th July 2022, available on https://www.euractiv.com/section/uk-europe/news/brussels-hopeful-yet-wary-on-uk-ties-after-johnson-exit/  

[7] Fox B., “Editor’s take: What direction for Eu-UK relations after Johnson’s luck runs out?”, EURACTIV, 7th July, available on https://www.euractiv.com/section/all/opinion/editors-take-what-direction-for-eu-uk-relations-after-johnsons-luck-runs-out/

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