Boris Johnson, a top contender to take over from Prime Minister Theresa May, said he wants a pragmatic exit from the bloc, but the country must prepare for no-deal as a negotiating tactic.
Johnson set out the outline of a negotiating strategy at a conference in Interlaken, Switzerland. He would prepare for no-deal, go back to Brussels to renegotiate the toxic Irish backstop, and make clear that he’s prepared to leave without a deal if the European Union says no.
"The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no-deal situation," he told a conference in Interlaken, Switzerland. "To get things done you need to be prepared to walk away."
He said he believes the UK will leave the EU on October 31 - the latest deadline - with or without a deal.
Investors are watching his comments carefully as he’s so far the bookmakers’ front-runner to win the leadership race that’s just getting started.
Johnson, the face of the 2016 referendum campaign, is the favorite for now but Tory leadership races are wildly unpredictable. The race takes a couple of months, and there’s plenty of time for an upset. Historically, those who start the race ahead often lose. Still, Johnson has some high-profile allies already and has the biggest war chest.
He has long indicated that he’d be willing to pull the UK out of the bloc without a deal and has criticised May for surrendering to the EU. That has spooked markets, and the pound has weakened on concerns that a hardliner would pursue a no-deal exit.
Johnson’s other tactic is to get Parliament to rule out the possibility of canceling Brexit - an option the UK legally has. That would concentrate minds in the EU, where some officials continue to hope that the UK might change its mind.
The EU is wary of a Johnson premiership. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday the next phase "may be a very dangerous one for Ireland,” the remaining EU country that’s most exposed to a no-deal Brexit.
The EU has repeatedly said it won’t reopen the divorce deal and won’t change the Irish backstop. It’s the most contentious part of the agreement as it potentially keeps the UK bound the EU rules indefinitely and treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the country. Johnson noted that a majority in the U.K. Parliament has voted to renegotiate the backstop.
Johnson said a second referendum was a "very bad idea" as it would be "deeply divisive". And whoever wins the contest needs to help the country move on beyond Brexit, he said.
"Put Brexit to bed, pacify this bawling that’s been going on for so long. That can be done."