Boris Johnson promises to deliver Brexit at any cost.
When the UK's former London Mayor Boris Johnson was once asked about business concerns over Brexit, his famous response was "**** business." Now he is the country's prime minister and the reaction from business is less than enthusiastic.
Widely touted as "Britain's Trump"—even by the US president himself—Boris Johnson took over from Theresa May last week after being elected the new leader of the Conservative Party by its members. Johnson is seen as one of the chief architects of Brexit, having campaigned prominently in favour of the Leave vote.
Not long after his election, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)—a UK business organisation—issued its business manifesto for the British prime minister. In a statement, Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI's Director-General, said: "Business needs three things in the first 100 days. A Brexit deal that unlocks confidence; clear signals the UK is open for business; and a truly pro-enterprise vision for our country."
The first of those appears unlikely. The new prime minister has populated his cabinet with members of the so-called European Research Group (ERG), a clique of backbench conservative MPs advocating for what is widely viewed as the worst-case scenario: a no-deal Brexit. Among them is minister Michael Gove who recently said planning for no-deal is now the government's "number one priority" as it is "accelerating preparations."
By promising to deliver Brexit by October 31 "come what may", Boris Johnson is gambling that Europe will blink first and agree to remove the contentious "Irish backstop" agreed in Theresa May's draft EU withdrawal deal. The backstop is an insurance policy that ensures open borders by keeping Northern Ireland will in the EU customs union if future negotiations fail. Ursula von der Leyen—who became the first woman president of the European Commission last week—has already warned the arrangement could not be renegotiated.
Yet, even as the pound falls, Johnson is trying to project a different image and has pledged to be the most "pro-business" UK prime minister ever. Johnson has even hired Andrew Griffith, the former COO and CFO of Comcast-owned UK broadcaster Sky, as his chief business adviser.
Now it seems the best business can do is prepare for the worst. In a report on a likely no-deal outcome, CBI's Fairbairn, said taking steps to reduce the impact of a cliff-edge Brexit is the "right thing to do."
"The new government must dedicate just as much effort to striking a deal as preparing for a failure to agree one because there is no such thing as a no-deal without negative consequences for jobs and growth," she said.