Brexit deal: DUP deny report they are privately ready to ‘shift red lines’ blocking backstop progress

The DUP has responded defensively to a report claiming the unionist party may be ready to budge on its objections to the Northern Ireland backstop.

The party has solidly opposed any agreement which could see Northern Ireland diverge significantly from Great Britain in terms of customs arrangements.

But a report in The Times claimed the party could now accept “abiding by some European Union rules”, in exchange for the EU side dropping a demand for Northern Ireland to stay in a formal customs union.

The story comes as Boris Johnson has increasingly pointed to different arrangements for the nation, which has been without a devolved parliament for two and a half years.

‘Stormont lock’

But while the report relied on private remarks, the DUP was quick to publicly pour cold water on any sense that they had shifted from their original position.

“The only different arrangements we will accept for Northern Ireland are those where the Assembly has total scrutiny of EU legislation, decides it’s in the interest of Northern Ireland and doesn’t damage our relationship with the UK,” DUP MP Sammy Wilson told BBC Good Morning Ulster.

The parliament at Stormont has remained shut for two and a half years – though the DUP has retained influence in Westminster (Photo: Getty)

The issue of a “Stormont lock” emerged in negotiations during Theresa May’s tenure and is considered to be difficult because it could lead to Northern Ireland diverging from Ireland’s customs regime in major ways – making the backstop useless for keeping the border open.

The DUP has been the biggest party in the Assembly in Stormont since 2007, providing the past three First Ministers in the form of Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster.

However, because of the rules of powersharing enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, DUP leaders must serve alongside the largest nationalist party – usually Sinn Féin.

Arlene Foster tweeted in response to the claim that the DUP was changing its view: “UK must leave as one nation.

“We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK.

“We will not support any arrangements that create a barrier to East West trade.

“Anonymous sources lead to nonsense stories.”

Sanitary and phytosanitary union

The issue of the backstop continues to divide the UK and the EU when it comes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

The UK’s side has proposed alternative arrangements to make it obsolete – but the EU says it has yet to receive an actual proposal.

The Prime Minister, when visiting Dublin earlier this week, raised the prospect of a “sanitary and phytosanitary union” for agrifoods between the Irish and Northern Irish jurisdictions, something which exists already ahead of Brexit.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) speaks to the media ahead of his meeting with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Photo: Getty)

DUP grandee Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Question Time last night that he remains optimistic of a negotiated solution.

“We believe the best way to leave the European Union is with a deal and we’re working at that,” he said.

“I don’t accept that it’s impossible to get a deal, I think it is.

Some of the statements being made now by the Irish government are far more positive.

‘Beginning to see a shift’

He cited statements from the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and new EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan on willingness to consider alternative arrangements, adding: “I think we’re beginning to see a shift.”

While the DUP supported Mrs May in a confidence and supply agreement and appears to be willing to honour that agreement under Mr Johnson, the new Prime Minister does not have sufficient votes to pass any legislation, even with DUP help, after kicking out 21 Conservative MPs for rebelling.

Even a Brexit deal which commanded DUP support would require backing from other parties – most likely from Labour backbenchers. Significant numbers could be required to vote with the Government if the ERG “Spartans”, who have long opposed the Withdrawal Agreement, fail to fall in line.

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‘You can’t have a Brexit agreement without a backstop,’ new head of European Parliament tells UK

The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, has said there would be no Brexit agreement “without a backstop” in a statement on Thursday, arguing that the UK has brought no new proposals to the table.

The new president pointed out that its 750 MEPs would have to approve any deal, which he argued must contain a form of backstop.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been arguing for the backstop, a set of measures aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, to be removed from the deal that was negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May.

‘Main stumbling block’

David Sassoli criticised the UK Government (Photo: European Parliament)

Mr Sassoli said: “Obviously, the backstop is the main stumbling block in negotiations” before adding that “you can’t have an agreement without a backstop. It couldn’t really be any clearer”.

He said: “That’s the position of the European Commission, and the position of the European Institutions, including the European Parliament, and don’t forget the Parliament will have the last word.”

The backstop, as it stands, would keep the UK inside a customs union and Northern Ireland aligned with EU rules to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland if no trade agreement is reached to achieve the same aim.

No alternatives

‘We believe there is too much rigidity and this rigidity is something that’s been ratified into the date of 31 October’ (Photo: Getty Images)

Mr Sassoli criticised the UK Government for not doing enough to find a different solution, saying: “I’d like to stress this point: The United Kingdom hasn’t really proposed any alternatives.”

He said: “We’re happy to look at the Political Declaration again, and make it into a legally binding document, and conclude an association agreement, which of course, if it’s sufficiently rooted, would make a backstop unnecessary.”

But he warned of an increased risk of no deal, and said the UK would still have to pay its outstanding payments, known as the Brexit divorce bill.

‘Closer to the possibility of a no-deal’

Michel Barnier said he was 'not optimistic' about finding a Brexit compromise. (Getty)
Michel Barnier said he was ‘not optimistic’ about finding a Brexit compromise (Getty)

After a meeting with EU negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Sassoli told reporters: “The resolution stresses the concern of the Parliament on recent developments in the debate in the United Kingdom and the breaking off of the negotiations, which do bring us closer to the possibility of a no deal.

“We believe there is too much rigidity and this rigidity is something that’s been ratified into the date of 31 October.

“The resolution says that if there is a no deal departure that will be entirely the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

“And, of course, it will still be bound to its financial obligations and they need to respect the rights of the citizens as well as the Good Friday Agreement.”

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Brexit latest: Tory Brexiteer Nigel Evans claims there are 50 Labour MPs who are prepared to back deal

Tory MP Nigel Evans has claimed that 50 MPs from the Labour Party would be prepared to back a new Brexit deal brought by Boris Johnson.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, the Brexiteer claimed that progress is being made by the Government on finding a new solution to the Irish border issue and that members of the Northern Irish DUP are also onside.

Mr Johnson said that a no-deal Brexit would be a “failure of statecraft” during a visit to Dublin on Monday, despite concerns from some MPs that this is his objective.

Under the terms of a new law, which has been imposed on Mr Johnson by MPs, the Prime Minister must seek an extension to Brexit beyond 31 October unless either a new deal, or a no-deal exit is approved by the Commons by 19 October.

‘We can do a deal’

Nigel Evans said a number of Labour MPs would back the deal. (Photo: Sky News)

Mr Evans told Sky News: “Everybody’s been focusing on whether [Mr Johnson will] break the law. Of course, he clearly doesn’t want to do that.

“Nor does he want to disrespect the views of the British voters in that referendum, and so the way we do that is by seeing if there is a way that we can do a deal. ”

“And I talked to Arlene Foster yesterday who was over for discussions with the Prime Minister, I spoke to Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP, who is incredibly pragmatic at looking for all sorts of ways.

“And we all already know that the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney has been looking at ways of facilitating the integrity of the single market but away from the border.

50 Labour MPs

Caroline Flint is leading the new group (Photo: Getty Images)

“And so there are all sorts of ways that this can happen. But what we need, and this is the one thing that has been lacking, is political will.

“And I spoke to a Labour MP yesterday, and she told me that there are about 50 Labour MPs who are ready to break ranks with the Labour Party, if necessary, in order to vote for a pragmatic sensible deal that’s going to deliver Brexit.”

Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Caroline Flint are trying to build a cross-party consensus for a deal, with support from former Tory ministers such as Rory Stewart.

Mr Johnson is focused on trying to negotiate changes to the backstop, a series of measures that keeps the UK in the Customs Union and Northern Ireland aligned to many EU rules, to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

The DUP, who have helped prop up the Tory Government, are opposed to any deal that separates Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK.

‘Economic and constitutional integrity of the UK’

The Prime Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster held talks for over an hour in Downing Street on a way forward on Brexit
The Prime Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster held talks for over an hour in Downing Street on a way forward on Brexit (Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

Ms Foster said after meeting the Prime Minister on Tuesday: “A sensible deal, between the United Kingdom and European Union which respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, is the best way forward for everyone,” she said.

“History teaches us that any deal relating to Northern Ireland which cannot command cross-community support is doomed to failure. That is why the Northern Ireland backstop is flawed.

“During today’s meeting, the Prime Minister confirmed his rejection of the Northern Ireland only backstop and his commitment to securing a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.”

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Ashcroft poll on support the backstop, reunification and party leaders

Lord Ashcroft has released the findings of his poll surveying Northern Ireland voters about their attitudes towards a border poll, the backstop and the various party leaders. 

Border Poll

He says about this

In my poll, 45 per cent said that they would vote to stay in the UK, and 46 per cent said they would choose to leave and join the Republic of Ireland – a lead of 51 per cent to 49 per cent for unification when we exclude don’t knows and those who say they would not vote.

 

The backstop

He says about these findings;

Overall, a quarter of Northern Ireland voters agree that the backstop “is not ideal, but it is an acceptable compromise for getting Brexit done without the risk of a hard border”. Only 15 per cent of unionists take this view. Nearly eight in ten unionists believe the backstop “separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in unacceptable ways, and the government should not agree to any deal that includes it.”

Party Leaders

 

He says about this;

Asked how they felt about various political leaders, voters as a whole put the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long at the top of the list, with Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, second and Boris Johnson – who scores higher marks among unionists than Arlene Foster – in third place overall. Jeremy Corbyn scores highest among nationalists, who give him the third highest marks behind Long and Varadkar.

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How to fix the Brexit deal so a sovereign UK can agree a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU

The next week in Parliament is bound to be tumultuous, but I believe all MPs should remember that some of us have spent the summer fashioning the tools to enable the United Kingdom and the EU to agree a deal.

In July, the Prosperity-UK Alternative Arrangements Commission – for which I chair the 20-strong panel of Technical Experts – published its final report intended to avoid the need for the infamous Irish Backstop, while ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld, and the UK is able to pursue an independent trade and regulatory policy after Brexit.

The Prime Minister mentioned the report approvingly in both his meetings with the German Chancellor and with the French President. On Friday, Suella Braverman MP led a delegation of experts from Prosperity-UK to meet Stephanie Riso, Michel Barnier’s deputy, to brief her on our proposals.

Our next step, announced yesterday, is to try and fix the Political Declaration, in order to create a new Withdrawal Agreement which could pass in Parliament. We are seeking to consult interested stakeholders on the interim version and will publish a final version in due course.

The Boris Johnson team will know that the Political Declaration was written by the previous government team with a very specific goal of using the backstop as a bridge to some sort of customs union with high regulatory alignment, both of which would essentially negate any serious sort of independent trade and regulatory policy for the UK. Boris Johnson campaigned on the ultimate end state being an advanced EU-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), something he has called SuperCanada, and others have called Canada ++.

While sticking country names on trade deals is not perhaps the best way of describing them, the point is that his administration wants the UK to have a comprehensive, advanced FTA with the EU, a commercial treaty between two sovereign entities and not one which puts Britain in a position of legal subordination to the EU.

We know that the EU ultimately wants to have a comprehensive FTA with the UK, with Irish border facilitations, customs facilitations and regulatory cooperation. It should therefore, in theory, be easy for both sides to revise the current inadequate Political Declaration to reflect this. At the same time, it will be necessary to change certain parts of the Withdrawal Agreement to make it technically consistent both with the new Political Declaration and a new Alternative Arrangements Protocol for the Irish Border.

Amongst other things, these changes are reflective of a huge change in direction by the UK government, from the May to Johnson administrations, which the EU may not have fully internalised yet. Whereas the previous government regarded the backstop as a bridge to an end state which would be some sort of subordinate, hybrid customs union arrangement with high regulatory alignment, the new government thinks the end state should be an advanced FTA with regulatory cooperation, but with the capability for the UK to diverge, so that it can preserve its independent trade and regulatory policy. This is a sea change in approach.

In summary, our redrafted Political Declaration reflects that the final end state should be an FTA. The UK’s sovereignty over matters like Geographical Indications (GIs), currently in the Withdrawal Agreement, should be placed where it belongs in the end state agreement. Changes to the defence and security sections, to reflect the UK’s sovereignty and not limiting its choices vis-à-vis the rest of the world, should be made.

The Withdrawal Agreement should be amended to allow for a transition period, during which the UK can negotiate, sign and ratify trade deals (as it says now), but which also critically provides that both parties will be bound by general principles of good regulatory practice in this period, in order to make sure that the EU does not regulate in the transition period in a way which damages the UK’s interests. It would be difficult for the EU to reject the principle of good regulatory practice embedded, as it is in various OECD documents to which the EU has itself made valuable contributions. Similarly, it would be difficult for the EU to reject the idea that what GIs the UK protects is a matter for the end state FTA between both parties. There will clearly be a GI chapter as the UK will want to protect Scotch Whisky and other key GIs it has.

The Withdrawal Agreement has been amended to reflect the fact that the level playing field obligations have been mutualised and pave the way for similar obligations in the ultimate FTA itself. Given how often these are agreed among parties to FTAs now, the EU cannot seriously object to them.

Many MPs voted against the deal because they rightly feared that Theresa May’s Government would move directly from the deal to an end state negotiation based on the Backstop being activated. It turns out they were quite right to be fearful. If they are to vote for any kind of deal, they will need to know with certainty that the end state of an FTA is not in doubt and the government will be strenuously negotiating in the UK’s interest for the most advanced, comprehensive and liberalising FTA, fully utilising the fact that we have regulatory identicality on day one of Brexit, and thus management of divergence is the key regulatory issue. This message can be communicated with the Political Declaration, and the EU will at least know what the UK wants, something it has rightly complained about in the past.

We have a limited amount of time to put a package on the table, which can pass in Parliament while being an eminently reasonable offer from the UK that the EU can get behind. Prosperity-UK has fashioned the tools, the parties must put them to use.

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Michel Barnier warns Boris Johnson the Irish backstop cannot be scrapped

Michel Barnier has quashed Boris Johnson’s hopes of renegotiating the Irish backstop, insisting the solution represents the “maximum flexibility” Brussels can offer.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator said the measures, aimed at preventing a hard border across Ireland, could not be changed.

Mr Barnier warned that he is “not optimistic” about avoiding no-deal, despite Boris Johnson claiming there were “signs of progress” in Brexit discussions.

Mr Johnson has previously told the EU the arrangement must be ditched if a no-deal Brexit was to be avoided.

‘Not optimistic’

But Mr Barnier said: “I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario, but we should all continue to work with determination.

“On the EU side, we had intense discussions with EU member states on the need to guarantee the integrity of the EU’s single market, while keeping that border fully open.

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“In this sense, the backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson restated his case for a harder Brexit, telling The Sunday Times the country needed to “come out of the incarceration of the backstop”.

He added: “Everybody understands what is wrong with the current withdrawal agreement: it keeps the UK locked into the EU. It means they can boss us around on trade policy or on how we legislate forever.”

Boris Johnson said he was positive about getting a deal from Brussels after speaking to EU leaders last week. (Getty)
Boris Johnson said he was positive about getting a deal from Brussels after speaking to EU leaders last week. (Getty)

Eight weeks left

The interventions from both sides come ahead of another pivotal week in the Commons and an expected clash on the green benches when opponents of no deal look set to try to seize control of the parliamentary agenda to push through legislation delaying Brexit beyond 31 October.

Mr Johnson – who spoke of “interesting signs of progress” in conversations with European leaders in Paris, Berlin and at the G7 – took aim at would-be rebels who may look to block a no-deal departure.

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Boris Johnson tells rebel Tory MP’s to back him or face ‘chaos’ under Jeremy Corbyn

He told the paper: “I just say to everybody in the country, including everyone in parliament, the fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum?

“Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people – and plunge this country into chaos.”

“There’s a good chance we’ll get a deal and there’s a good chance that we won’t,” Mr Johnson told Cabinet colleagues last week, according to The Sunday Times.

Additional reporting from the Press Association

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Even if the EU offer to remove the Backstop, here’s why the draft Withdrawal Agreement must still be rejected

To some, Boris Johnson’s upbeat talks with EU leaders last week cast a glimmer of late summer sunlight on the Brexit impasse. There appears to be a sliver of a chance that the EU may yet return to the negotiating table in the coming weeks, perhaps because it is dawning on them that this Prime Minister is serious about taking the UK out of the EU without a deal and that a no-deal scenario will be equally – if not more – harmful to them than it will be to us.

At the same time, Johnson’s evident preoccupation with fixing the Withdrawal Agreement by removing the Backstop should be serious concern for anyone who wants a genuine Brexit. There is a very real danger that the Withdrawal Agreement, without the dreaded Irish Backstop, might be agreed by the EU and then get through Parliament. The Prime Minister voted for the Withdrawal Agreement himself, even with the Backstop still in, as did a number of leading Leave-backing MPs at the third time of asking. It is only the EU which now stands in its way.

But we must keep in mind there are many features of the Withdrawal Agreement which are just as bad as the Backstop, but which have received far less attention, notably from our Prime Minister. The Withdrawal Agreement would maintain the supremacy of EU law over the UK, including new laws created by the EU over which the UK would have no voice. This means that UK courts would be required to strike down Acts of Parliament if they are determined to be inconsistent with EU law.

Worse, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would be retrained, either directly or through a dispute settlement system modelled on the one the EU has with the Ukraine through which a notionally neutral tribunal would be bound on issues of EU law by decisions of ECJ. Since the UK would have no judge on the ECJ, it would effectively be under the jurisdiction of a foreign court.

If that isn’t anti-democratic enough, although the UK would be bound by decisions of the EU institutions, including the European Commission, it would not be able to submit proposals or even requests for information to these bodies. Moreover, UK companies would be subject to EU State Aid rules after the transition period, removing a valuable tool of economic policy from the British government. Add to this the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement has very strict financial penalties for breach of its provisions and there would be no recourse to international courts for their resolution.

Perhaps most crucially, tied to the EU’s legal framework during the duration of the Withdrawal Agreement’s application and with no certainty regarding the situation which will replace it (because of the vague, ‘best efforts’ language of the accompanying waffly Political Declaration), the UK will be effectively prevented from signing trade deals with other countries, regardless of the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement misleadingly promises that this would be permitted. The auspicious US trade deal we have been hearing about recently would vanish overnight. And let’s not forget the small matter of the EU’s £39 billion Withdrawal Agreement signing bonus.

With no independent trade policy, bound by the EU’s cumbersome rulebook and subject to the ECJ, the promises made by the Cameron and May governments before and after the referendum (recall: no Single Market, no ECJ), the Withdrawal Agreement is an unmitigated disaster, even with the notorious Irish Backstop removed.

Were the EU to cave in and take out the Backstop, perhaps convinced by the very credible alternative border arrangements proposed by Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, they would be doing the UK no favours. We would find ourselves trapped in an agreement that is still woefully one-sided.

Once again it is the EU’s intransigence that could end up saving Brexit, even if it means both sides toughing out the massively exaggerated no-deal hardships before the EU ultimately returns to the table and negotiates a conventional free trade deal, which is what we needed all along.

Please, Prime Minister, don’t settle for the Withdrawal Agreement without the Backstop if you get it; the whole thing must be ditched.

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EU wary of Boris Johnson’s ‘sinister’ scheme to ‘suppress’ Parliament over Brexit deal

Boris Johnson’s bid to suspend parliament for five weeks was lambasted as a “sinister” scheme by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, while other leading European politicians said the Prime Minister risked undermining British democracy.

Mr Verhofstadt warned that proroguing parliament would raise the chances of a no-deal Brexit and threaten plans for a future, post-Brexit trade deal. “‘Taking back control’ has never looked so sinister. As a fellow parliamentarian, my solidarity with those fighting for their voices to be heard,” the former Belgian Prime Minister said. “Suppressing debate on profound choices is unlikely to help deliver a stable future EU-UK relationship.”

Officially, the European Commission is wary of wading into domestic British politics, and a spokeswoman was only prepared to speak on the current Brexit timetable agreed between London and the other 27 EU member states. “Our working assumption is Brexit should occur on October 31 and that should happen with a deal. For that to happen the earlier we see workable proposals the better,” she said.

She was speaking as Mr Johnson’s Brexit envoy David Frost was in Brussels meeting senior EU officials, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff, Clara Martínez Alberola. Mr Juncker and Mr Johnson had already agreed to “continue the dialogue” during a phone call on Tuesday evening, in which the Commission President said the EU’s support for Ireland was “steadfast” and that it would “continue to be very attentive to Ireland’s interests”.

Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron pose at the G7 summit amid Brexit talks
Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron pose at the G7 summit amid Brexit talks (Photo: Andrew Parsons/Getty)

Britain’s wobbly democracy?

However, other top EU figures have raised concerns about the state of British politics in the wake of Mr Johnson’s drastic move.

French MEP and former Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau described it as a sign that there was a “disease” in British democracy. “We could see a Brexit without an agreement,” tweeted Mrs Loiseau, who is a close ally of President, Emmanuel Macron. “It is, moreover, a Brexit without debate that is looming. From what disease is British democracy suffering from that there is a fear of debate before taking one of the most important decisions in its history?”

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Norbert Rӧttgen, the influential chairman of the German Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, also wondered if the move would undermine democracy. “Johnson argues that respect for democracy dictates implementing #Brexit ‘do or die’ on October 31,” he tweeted. “As a fellow parliamentarian and democrat I wonder: how does respect for democracy go together with suspending #parliament?!”

No change in EU stance

There is little expectation in Brussels and other capitals that the suspension will raise the pressure on the rest of the EU to change their negotiating position on the Withdrawal Agreement and the so-called Irish backstop, the insurance plan to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Officials put the onus on the UK government to propose an alternative to the backstop, in the wake of Mr Johnson’s meetings last week in Paris with Mr Macron, and in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, speaking in Paris pointed out that the Agreement could not be renegotiated. “Even if we wanted to do that, which we don’t, we can’t do it in six or ten weeks,” he said. Mr Coveney, who is also Ireland’s Foreign Minister, added that the EU was still waiting for Britain to propose workable alternatives to the backstop. “Nobody has yet come up with credible arrangements or technical solutions for that matter which could replace those temporary arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop,” he said.

Boris Johnson (right) meets European Union Council President Donald Tusk at the G7 (Photo: Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson (right) meets European Union Council President Donald Tusk at the G7 (Photo: Neil Hall – Pool/Getty)

Brussels wary of blame game

Behind the scenes, officials see Mr Johnson’s manoeuvres as an attempt to frame no-deal Brexit as the fault of the rest of the EU. They say the Prime Minister was never serious about renegotiating and was only concerned about the optics of Britain crashing out of the block.

Danuta Huebner, a Polish MEP and former European Commissioner said the suspension was about clearing away domestic opposition. “It means #Brexit no more about relation EU-UK. Now this is purely a domestic power game,” she said.

Fabien Zuleeg, the chief executive of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank said the move confirmed suspicions that Mr Johnson was aiming for a no-deal Brexit. “Conclusion: no deal probability 90%+,” he said. Mr Zuleeg also raised questions about Britain’s political stability. “I find it astonishing and frightening that in a mature democracy like the UK, the whole parliamentary process and the powers of government and parliament seem entirely uncertain and that nobody seems to know who will prevail in case of conflict,” he said.

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Theresa May fell into the traps set by the EU and caved into their demands

The failure (thus far) to implement the people’s wishes on Brexit must be the greatest cock-up in British history. It has created a political mess in which we wallow while the world laughs. So it’s worthwhile to ask what went wrong and learn the lessons. We wasn’t just robbed. We failed incompetently.

Brexiteers assumed that it would be easy. In fact the obstacles were enormous. We faced an intransigent and inflexible opponent in a devious, cunning EU. A determined and articulate middle-class reaction in Britain colluded with Brussels to undermine our case. The Cabinet was divided, a wittering Chancellor poured on cold water and the Treasury organised a chorus of fear. Theresa May’s weakness meant she could be treated and foiled in shameful fashion. All this doomed her.

Instead of implementing the referendum result as his Government had said it would, Cocksure Cameron sulked off. In came Theresa May, too nice to fight, too inflexible to be devious and too stupid to understand. She naively assumed that all she had to do was talk nicely to other heads of state who would understand the politics. Instead she was forced to deal only with the Commission – that had everything to lose. Its role and its money were threatened by Brexit. So it grabbed control of the negotiations to punish us and protect itself.

Niceness was out. Middle-class Europhiles and the Establishment in Britain felt their right to rule was threatened by the hairy armpits of uneducated, ill-informed plebs who’d voted in a way they should never have been allowed to. This encouraged EU determination to punish a nation impertinent enough to question its EU destiny. So while Brexiteers celebrated, the Commission plotted and decided immediately that the 27 would stand together. Then the conditions of departure would be settled before any talks about trade. They’d come only after Britain left. In effect “no deal departure” started as an EU policy.

That put May in a trap. The Lisbon Treaty says once notification is given “a withdrawal agreement is negotiated setting out the arrangements for withdrawal and outlining the country’s future relationship with the union”, two processes to go on concurrently. May’s notification letter of 29th March 2017 asked for this:

“We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal.”

Legally correct. But EU law is observed only if it furthers ever closer union. This didn’t. A conglomerate of 27 nations can’t negotiate. So EU bureaucrats insisted on one negotiator who would not discuss future cooperation until tough terms for divorce were agreed. Their executioner was Michel Barnier, a man with a Gallic dislike of Britain who announced:

“My mission will have been a success when the terms are so brutal for the British that they prefer to stay in the union.”

He made certain of this by adding a veto for Ireland to the two initial demands about money and protection for EU citizens. There would be no customs border, thus ensuring that Northern Ireland must be treated separately, or the whole of the UK kept in the Single Market. This was the backstop. It threatened to keep the UK a vassal state, but was justified as protection for the Good Friday Agreement. The two were totally unrelated but it was an implicit threat that the old violence would be unleashed unless May caved.

She did. David Davis announced that simultaneous negotiations would bethe fight of the summer” but by the autumn May had decided to grovel, not fight. She erased her red lines, walked into the trap and agreed everything the Commission wanted – only then to suffer humiliation at the EU summit and more in Parliament, which refused to pass her bedraggled agreement.

Her demise leaves a deadlock. A new government determined on Brexit confronts an EU which won’t budge from an agreement which can’t pass, while deliberately inflated fears of “no deal” intimidate the nation. A new government should mean new negotiations but that opens up the whole can of worms of legality, unity, and skullduggery. So the EU is loath to do it, meaning a confrontation which deadlocks everything. Except hysteria.

My conclusion is that whoever negotiates with the EU must carry a big stick. Others invoke the analogy of Dunkirk with Churchill snatching victory out of defeat. That’s daft. We were a nation then, Churchill had a huge majority, there was neither a bourgeois fifth column, nor vested interests generating fear and no media to damn Churchill for dirty underpants. How fortunate that the consequences of either side winning are more marginal than 1940, whatever their long-term impact on the kind of nation we want to be.

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