UK ‘Ireland-specific’ Brexit plan meets Brussels skepticism

The U.K. presented a long-awaited plan to EU negotiators Wednesday on how to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, but diplomats briefed on the Brexit talks say the proposals fall short of the reassurance that Dublin and Brussels need.

Under the proposal, presented in Brussels by Boris Johnson’s most senior EU adviser, David Frost, the backstop would be removed and replaced with “Ireland-specific” arrangements for checking goods away from the border, according to diplomats briefed on the talks.

In effect, London is offering a commitment to develop alternative custom procedures during the post-Brexit transition period, two EU officials said, although it is unclear if this will satisfy Brussels and Dublin. Leading figures on the EU side have repeated endlessly that they regard the Northern Ireland conundrum as something that must be settled before the U.K. leaves the bloc.

Even though it has been received with some skepticism, the offer marks a significant moment in the U.K. government’s evolving Brexit strategy. With other options such as an October snap general election and leaving with no-deal now seemingly closed off to Johnson, his EU negotiating team has come to Brussels with a more substantive position than before — albeit with what EU diplomats described as a vague verbal-only offer with little detail.

Alternative fixes to the Irish border — such as electronic pre-clearance, pre-border checks and trusted trader schemes — have been publicly discussed during past weeks, but Wednesday was the first time that Frost held a dedicated meeting with EU officials to discuss such customs plans, officials said.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Crucially, the new proposal would allow the U.K., including Northern Ireland, to leave the EU’s customs union. That would permit it to adopt different tariffs on goods if it wanted and to conclude its own trade deals — a key priority for Johnson.

The proposal comes in addition to the U.K.’s idea, shared last week, to create an all-Ireland zone for food regulations such as animal welfare, which would further reduce trade frictions for products from milk to beef that pass the Irish border on a daily basis.

EU spokesperson Mina Andreeva confirmed publicly on Thursday that the U.K. had made a new offer on Wednesday without giving any details. “The U.K. presented ideas in the area of customs and manufactured goods,” she said.

But Brussels reacted with skepticism to the British plans: “We still haven’t gotten any written proposals,” said an EU official, adding that what had been presented could not replace the legal guarantees provided by the backstop. They would also require the EU to trust that there would be enough time during a post-Brexit transition period to develop the ideas before the U.K. fully diverges from EU rules.

Another EU official cautioned the proposals were only “aspirational ideas” and stressed that the U.K. had been unable to explain how they should work in practice. The official that the U.K. negotiators conceded that the plan would inevitably lead to more “non-compliance” with customs rules.

A similar warning came from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier: “At this precise moment … we have no reason to be optimistic,” he told the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents on Thursday.

“We will see in the coming weeks whether the British are able to make concrete written proposals to us that are legally operational,” Barnier added.

Away from the border

To avoid lengthy customs checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which could jeopardize the Good Friday peace agreement, the U.K. plan proposes that authorities conduct checks of customs declarations and exported goods away from the border, two EU officials said.

Those checks would be done directly at the premises of the traders. Moreover, those procedures could be “simplified” for “trusted traders,” the officials said.

A U.K. government spokesperson said: “As the prime minister set out on Monday, there are ideas that we’re bringing forward to address the range of complexities involved with the Northern Ireland border.

“He spoke about two broad areas: facilitations, such as trusted trader schemes, and measures relating to what might need to be done on an all-island basis, such as agri-foods and an SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary measures] area,” the spokesperson continued.

“Under no circumstances,” the spokesperson added, “will we be imposing infrastructure or checks of any kind at the Northern Ireland border.”

Protesters against Brexit and the possible imposition of any hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland gather at the border between Derry and County Donegal | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

The plan resembles one that Jonathan Faull, a former senior British EU official, and legal academics put forward last month, which suggested creating a network of trade centers away from the border where goods would be checked and duties paid.

However, Sam Lowe, a trade expert with the Centre for European Reform think tank, warned that moving customs checks was not a magic solution. “You have to police businesses that don’t play by the rules. That’s still quite disruptive and risks to undermine the peace process and disrupt the all-Ireland economy,” he said.

In addition to the new customs plan and the previous proposal for an all-Ireland food zone, the U.K. side on Wednesday also proposed an “enhanced market surveillance regime” to the EU that should avoid regulatory divergences on industrial goods.

This regime would be based on an exchange of data; enhanced cooperation between surveillance authorities; and “severe penalties” for breaches, according to the two EU officials. However, they cautioned that there was skepticism on the EU side about whether it was possible to improve on current market surveillance mechanisms.

Renewed vigor

Despite the cool reception in Brussels, EU diplomats say they have noted a change in mood in recent days from U.K. interlocutors, something one diplomat put down to Johnson’s defeats in the House of Commons.

Downing Street’s strategy, which had apparently been predicated on an autumn general election, has been blown off-course by Johnson’s failure to win a two-thirds majority among MPs for an early national poll. With that option closed off, his government is putting more energy into negotiations to find a deal with the EU before October 31.

EU diplomats, though, are concerned that time is running out ahead of the European Council summit on October 17 and 18, by which time they say it will be too late for leaders to digest and decide on new proposals.

The EU will need time before the summit to formalize and coordinate its position among the 27 remaining member countries, the diplomat said: “He cannot just arrive [at the summit] with a card up his sleeve — this is not poker.”

Johnson will be hoping that EU leaders will be so keen to end the Brexit game by that point that they will look at any sensible hand he offers them.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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How Ireland lost patience with Brexiting Brits

Once upon a time, Dublin might have settled for a Brexit fudge. But events in Westminster since the referendum have steadily destroyed trust between the capitals.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s demand to change the Brexit deal, negotiated over two years by his predecessor Theresa May and the remaining 27 EU countries, has only hardened Dublin’s commitment to it.

Britain’s approach to the negotiations, exacerbated by a tumultuous political landscape in Westminster, and the breakdown of government in Northern Ireland, have soured relations, eroding the good faith that underpinned peace talks in the 1990s. As trust has trickled away, so too has the appetite to accommodate the shifting U.K. position, uniting Ireland’s political class behind their red lines.

Most contentious is the so-called backstop, an insurance policy in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement designed to ensure no hard border ever emerges on the island of Ireland.

“We’re not just being asked to tweak it, to change it. We’re being asked to remove it completely. To take away a guarantee of peace, a guarantee to protect the Good Friday Agreement and everything that comes with it, take away a guarantee to protect our all-island economy, take away a guarantee that no border would emerge on the island,” Irish EU Affairs Minister Helen McEntee told POLITICO.

When Varadkar took office, his first foreign visit was to Downing Street, just five days into the job.

“All of those issues are so important to us. They’re important to the U.K., and they’ve said themselves that they’re committed to doing all of those things. So if that’s the case why are they asking us to remove it?”

The Irish government this week doubled down on its plans for a no-deal exit. For Ireland, giving in to British demands now would be accepting permanent negative consequences, while no deal would be terrible but temporary; and Britain will eventually have to accept the backstop — or something like it — if it ever wants a trade deal with the EU.

“Unfortunately, given political developments in the U.K., there is a significant and growing risk of no deal. We don’t wish to see a no-deal Brexit and we will continue our efforts to avoid one, but not at any cost,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Thursday. “Unlike some, I see no upsides to no deal. I do fear it. But I am prepared for it.”

Not so ‘Love Actually’

The depth to which British-Irish relations have fallen may be on display when Johnson travels to visit Varadkar in Dublin on Monday.

When Varadkar took office in June 2017, his first foreign visit was to Downing Street, just five days into the job.

“It’s my first time in this building so there’s a little thrill in it as well. We spoke on the way in and I was reminded of that famous scene in “Love Actually” when Hugh Grant does his dance down the stairs,” a visibly delighted Varadkar told a press conference back then.

Varadkar and Theresa May both spoke optimistically about achieving Brexit while maintaining the open border, protecting the Irish economy and peace. They even expressed hopes that the collapsed Northern Ireland administration could soon be back up and running.

“It is my first visit overseas and I really want to thank the prime minister for facilitating it at very short notice, but it does I think underline and emphasize the strength and closeness of the relationship that exists between our two countries,” Varadkar said.

By contrast, Johnson has spoken twice with Varadkar by phone since taking office. An unusually long time lapsed before he made the customary call to Dublin after becoming prime minister in July. The second was in the wake of a bomb attack in Fermanagh, a sign of worsening destabilization in Northern Ireland.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay clashed when then met last week in Paris. And while Downing Street has presented Johnson’s visit to Dublin as being part of Brexit negotiations, the Irish government has insisted it does not engage in bilateral talks on the U.K.’s exit.

Northern Ireland fault line

In talks with Brussels, the U.K. has indicated it wants to strip out much of what was agreed between May and the EU in December 2017.

EU27 diplomats have been briefed that the U.K.’s plan to strike out the backstop includes removing most of the parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that Ireland sees as guaranteeing the continued functioning of an all-Ireland economy. Asked by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer on Thursday if he could confirm the government’s commitment to the joint report, a key document that served as the blueprint for negotiations about the Irish border, Barclay declined.

A 2017 photo of then-British PM Theresa May and Varadkar | Philip Toscano/AFP via Getty Images

“The 2017 joint report was the foundation of a deal with the EU that would avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland,” Starmer told POLITICO. “The Brexit secretary’s refusal to stand by that agreement is deeply concerning and reveals the government’s willingness to backtrack on the solemn commitments it made to the people of Northern Ireland two years ago.”

While Westminster has been distracted by Johnson’s charge toward an election, the profound implications of the London-Dublin fault-line — particularly for Northern Ireland — are slowly beginning to surface.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith admitted to MPs that talks with political parties, brokered by London and Dublin, to restore power-sharing in Belfast are now running against the clock ahead of the U.K.’s October 31 departure date. In the event of any form of Brexit, but particularly no-deal, it would not be feasible for Northern Ireland to continue to be governed by civil servants alone, he said.

Patience also wore thin when it became apparent May was not always able to deliver on commitments her team had negotiated for in Brussels.

“They cannot take the proactive decisions that are needed on public services or the economy in the run-up to 31 October,” Smith said. “If we cannot secure the restoration of an [Northern Ireland] executive, we will pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity.”

That means some form of direct rule from London. Such a move, while viewed by Whitehall as a practical necessity given the prime minister’s Brexit stance, risks destabilizing an already tense political situation in Northern Ireland. Nationalist parties were quick to condemn Smith’s comments as signaling a “power grab” by the U.K. government.

What changed?

Dublin was initially optimistic about Brexit negotiations. The rhetoric in public statements coming from London was positive and the close result of the 2016 referendum was interpreted as an indication Britain would not pursue a hard break from the EU.

Over time, a series of events unpicked Dublin’s faith in London.

In her Lancaster House speech of January 2017, May adopted a much harder interpretation of Brexit than expected, committing to leaving the single market and customs union. Customs procedures would now be inevitable somewhere between Britain and Ireland.

Varadkar outside 10 Downing Street in 2017 | Carl Court/Getty Images

May’s public statements increasingly appeared to countenance leaving without a deal at all. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” became her most memorable phrase.

Patience also wore thin when it became apparent May was not always able to deliver on commitments her team had negotiated for in Brussels because of domestic political pressure.

“You can’t enter into negotiations with an entire parliament, it’s simply not possible,” McEntee said. “The EU has negotiated this in good faith over two and a half years … you can’t keep shifting the goal posts, which is where we are now, in that we are being asked to essentially wipe the slate clean on two and a half years of negotiations … and replace it with nothing.”

Holding onto the backstop

Since the referendum, there has been cross-party collaboration on working to mitigate Brexit, in the spirit of confronting a national emergency. Irish parliamentary unity on Brexit remains near-total.

There is no opposition pressure to give in on the backstop. It helps that Varadkar’s Fine Gael party is in a governing arrangement with the largest opposition party, Fianna Fáil. But the current deal even enjoys support from Sinn Féin, normally the party most intractably opposed to Fine Gael.

“All parties, the EU, the Irish government and the Dáil [the lower house of the Irish parliament] have been clear and consistent that there can be no renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop it contains,” a Sinn Féin spokesman said.

Varadkar waves to members of the press as Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to the press in Brussels| Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images

Sinn Féin’s major demand to the government is that it should support a referendum on the unification of Ireland in the case of a no-deal Brexit. While all parties are in theory supportive of eventual unification, Varadkar strongly opposes any calls for a border poll at present, seeing these as destabilizing and ill-timed.

The Irish government says it has yet to be shown any proposals that obviate the need for a border. Suggestions put forward by Britain, such as technological solutions, streamlined customs and trusted trader schemes, would entail the existence of border checks.

Everyone is clear, gentlemen’s reassurances won’t do.

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Experts propose alternative to Brexit backstop

LONDON – A team of experts, including a former high-ranking British official in the European Commission, has drawn up a plan to replace the Northern Ireland backstop, which has become the major hurdle to a Brexit deal.

They say the plan has already attracted “considerable interest.”

The proposal, drawn up by Jonathan Faull — who held several director-general posts and was head of a special Commission task force on Brexit — and legal academics Joseph Weiler and Daniel Sarmiento, “maintains the integrity of both the EU’s single market and the UK’s territory;” “does not require Ireland to be treated differently from the rest of the EU or Northern Ireland to be treated differently from Great Britain;” and “does not tie the U.K. to the EU customs union, thus allowing the U.K. to pursue its own trade policy,” the group told POLITICO.

Its core principle is that the U.K. and EU are free to have distinct regulatory systems and customs regimes, but the U.K. and Ireland would make it a criminal offense to knowingly export goods across the Irish border that breach regulatory rules on the other side of the frontier.

The Irish border has been a major stumbling block in the Brexit negotiations | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Image

To avoid customs checks at the border, the proposal envisages a network of “EU Trade Centres” in the U.K. and Ireland, but away from the border, in which “all goods destined for the EU or the U.K. respectively via Northern Ireland would be processed, including payment of duties and the like, before they actually left British or Irish territory.”

The group drew up the plan in response to the rising probability of a no-deal Brexit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will take the U.K. out of the EU with or without an agreement — “do or die” — by October 31.

“As the prospect of a No Deal became frighteningly real we thought we would act,” Faull, Weiler and Sarmiento said in an email. “And we believed that maybe a fresh look and fresh minds not locked in to hardened positions could come up with something useful. We have grown increasingly frustrated at the tone of the debate and want to show that there is a practicable solution which should satisfy both sides.”

Asked whether the plan had been shared with EU officials or the U.K. government, the group declined to reveal the content of any discussions but said the plan had garnered “considerable interest.”

Faull told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program on Monday that he had not personally raised the plan with Downing Street but he hoped it would prompt discussion “so that we can sort something out quickly by the end of October.”

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister | Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

A U.K. government official said they were aware of the proposal but it had not been raised directly with No. 10 Downing Street.

Discussions on Brexit between the U.K. and the EU will continue at ‘sherpa’ level this week, the official said, adding that “there are lots of ideas that are out there.”

The backstop, under which the U.K. would remain in a de facto customs union with the EU, is opposed by Johnson and Conservative MPs as well as MPs from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party who, along with opposition parties, blocked Theresa May’s Brexit deal being ratified in the U.K. parliament. Johnson has demanded its removal from the Withdrawal Agreement as the starting point for any renegotiation.

EU leaders have demanded the U.K. come up with “operational and realistic” plans on the backstop before formal negotiations can take place. Unlike other alternative arrangements put forward by Conservative MPs and cited by Johnson, the new proposal is not based on technological solutions, which trade experts believe may not be ready for several years.

The group behind the new proposal said their plan would allow the backstop to be stripped out of the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement. They said the plan could be underpinned by an agreement of heads of state or government, or via a “minor tweaking of the Political Declaration [on the future relationship] and/or a one sentence modification to the Withdrawal Agreement.”

“The advantage of our proposal is that it creates a symmetry of rights and obligations of both parties, there are no winners and losers, and it creates an incentive for both parties to make it work,” the group said. “Nothing is risk-free, but we believe that beyond the rhetoric of the moment, the EU and the UK have strong economic, political and strategic incentives to work together.”

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Merkel to Johnson: Let’s find a Brexit plan in 30 days

BERLIN — Angela Merkel told Boris Johnson on Wednesday she saw “possibilities” to solve the Irish backstop problem and avoid a no-deal Brexit but said it was up to the U.K. to come up with a workable plan.

“I see possibilities, shaping the future relationship to address this point,” said Merkel of the contentious backstop — meant to ensure there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland — in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU and the U.K. under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

“We can maybe find it in the next 30 days,” the chancellor said, standing alongside Johnson at a brief press conference before the two leaders held talks over dinner.

Despite such hopeful rhetoric, Merkel’s comments indicated she continues to oppose re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement and is sticking to the EU line that any changes should come in the political declaration that sets out the future relationship between Britain and the bloc.

Hosting Johnson for talks on his first overseas visit as prime minister at her Berlin chancellery, she put the responsibility on Westminster to come up with a solution.

“Britain should tell us what kind of ideas it has. It is not the core task of a German chancellor to understand [the relationship of Ireland and Northern Ireland],” she said. “We have shown imagination and creativity in the past as the EU.”

Johnson was given military honors on arrival at the chancellery, during which both the two leaders were seated following Merkel’s recent health troubles. While the Bundeswehr band played the national anthems, a small group of protesters shouted “stop Brexit!” during interludes.

“Of course I think there’s ample scope to do a deal,” said Johnson alongside the chancellor, before offering a mangled “wir schaffen das” — a reference to a phrase used by Merkel during the 2015 migration crisis.

The chancellor offered a wry smirk in response.

Merkel gave no indication she was about to make a big concession on the backstop to avoid a no-deal Brexit. “We have said time and again that we are prepared for a no deal,” she said.

Johnson is scheduled to travel on to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron over lunch on Thursday. But officials in the French capital warn the position will be the same on the other side of the Rhine.

“There is not the thickness of a cigarette paper between [the German and French positions],” an Élysée official said.

Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.

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Boris Johnson’s not-so-grand tour

LONDON — Boris Johnson is heading to Europe, but his officials are heading out.

The U.K. prime minister will touch down in Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of his pledge to work with “energy and determination” to reach an agreement with the European Union before the Brexit date of October 31. He heads on to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.

But Johnson has hardly prepared the ground for smooth talks with his EU counterparts.

His call for the EU to drop the Irish border backstop from the Brexit deal agreed with his predecessor Theresa May was sharply rejected by European Council President Donald Tusk.

And on the eve of Johnson’s visit, Britain announced most U.K. officials will stop attending most EU meetings on the future of the Union from September 1. While the government insisted the move “is not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU,” the message to Brussels is clear: We have more important things to do.

“It is time to remove that backstop, get rid of it, have a total backstop-ectomy and I think then we can make progress” — Boris Johnson, British prime minister

“From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours,” Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay declared. “This will free up time for Ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Against that backdrop, the chances of the two sides bridging their differences look slim as Johnson prepares for a diplomatic blitz in Berlin and Paris, and at a summit of G7 countries in Biarritz at the weekend.

But the prime minister said he would not be put off by the EU’s stance.

“I saw what Donald Tusk had to say and it wasn’t redolent of a sense of optimism. But I think actually we will get there,” he said on Tuesday.

Johnson will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday | Halldor Kolbeins/AFP via Getty Images

“There is a real sense now that something needs to be done with this backstop. We can’t get it through Parliament as it is. So, I am going to go at it with a lot of oomph as you’d expect, and I hope we will be making some progress in the course of the next few weeks,” he told broadcasters.

“It is time to remove that backstop, get rid of it, have a total backstop-ectomy and I think then we can make progress,” he said in another interview, with Britain’s ITV.

He also risked riling the EU and members of the previous British government by declaring that ministers under his predecessor had been reconciled to remaining “within the empire of EU legislation.”

Demand for detail

His diplomatic statement of intent came after EU officials spent the day criticizing the lack of detail in a letter from Johnson to Tusk calling for the backstop to be dropped from the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU and the government of Theresa May.

Officials said there is no clear plan about what would happen if the so-called alternative arrangements to manage customs and regulatory differences as a result of Brexit on the Irish border are not in place at the end of a transition period.

“Replacing the backstop with something that isn’t defined gets rid of the guarantee the backstop was meant to provide. No checks, it’s a joke, it means that the U.K. would accept that products that don’t respect its rules enter its market without control? How long will that hold?” one French diplomatic official said.

European Council President Donald Tusk | Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Tusk took to Twitter to slam a lack of “realistic alternatives” on the backstop. And in a note to EU governments, seen by POLITICO, the European Commission’s task force dealing with Brexit described parts of Johnson’s letter as “inaccurate” and “misleading.”

Ahead of her dinner with Johnson on Wednesday, Merkel struck a constructive note but made clear the EU is not ready to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

While the EU would consider “practical” solutions for the Irish border after Brexit, that does not mean reopening the agreement, Merkel told a press conference on Tuesday.

One U.K. government official said that if EU leaders don’t change their position on the backstop, discussions in Berlin, France and Biarritz this week would focus on issues other than Brexit.

No watershed

A second U.K. official insisted the Tusk letter was never going to be a “watershed moment” and had simply set down the U.K. position in writing.

The official said that more specific proposals would first have to be aired in private talks with both EU leaders and the Commission. “The detail will come after those conversations,” the official suggested.

Some British government officials hope that the EU will shift its position if it becomes clear that the U.K. parliament can’t unite around a common position to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

“If I was the EU I would want to know if there is a real coalition to stop a no-deal Brexit,” a third U.K. government official said. “You need to get a majority of parliamentarians on the same page for something, and they aren’t yet.”

“The problem is that nothing has changed. What has it changed? A new government? That’s surely not enough, the approach is the same” — EU diplomat

The problem for Johnson’s government is that EU officials don’t believe he is strong enough politically to force through a no-deal outcome.

Johnson’s threats are not being taken seriously because of his thin majority, and the strength of opposition to no deal in the House of Commons, an EU diplomat said.

Another diplomat added that the EU has little reason to shift position when there was no evidence that any fundamental political realities in the U.K. had changed.

“The problem is that nothing has changed. What has it changed? A new government? That’s surely not enough, the approach is the same,” the diplomat said.

German unity

While EU governments are concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit, particularly after the German economy contracted in the second quarter, there is little pressure from industry or opposition politicians in European capitals to reopen the withdrawal text.

The Federation of German Industries, Germany’s leading business lobby group, said in a statement on Tuesday that threats from London of a disorderly exit were “irresponsible.” It was “reasonable” for the German federal government and the European Commission to “continue to stand by the negotiated deal,” the group added.

“It is also in the interest of the German economy that internal market rules are permanently observed at the Irish border. This will only succeed with the backstop,” the trade body said.

The noises from Germany were not supportive of Boris Johnson’s bid to strike a new Brexit deal | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Franziska Brantner, the European affairs spokesperson for the opposition Green party in Germany, said new negotiations would be “completely unacceptable.”

“Irish peace and European principles prevail over the selfish interests of Boris Johnson and his chaotic Tory troupe,” she told POLITICO.

For Johnson, there is also little domestic incentive to compromise.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, whose party crushed the Conservatives to emerge as the clear winner in the U.K.’s European election in May, criticized Johnson’s focus on the Irish backstop in his letter to Tusk.

“Even without the backstop, this is still the worst ‘deal’ in history,” he tweeted.

Letter reading

On the wing of the U.K. Conservative Party fighting against a no-deal Brexit, opinion was divided about Johnson’s letter to Tusk.

“It’s not a serious or credible negotiating position,” one Tory MP actively working to block no deal told POLITICO.

Former Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, another opponent of no deal, warned that if the letter had been “designed largely to reinforce domestic understanding of the government’s current position,” it would not be helpful.

But Burt said it would be encouraging if, along with Johnson’s phone call to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday night, it indicated there was “a willingness in setting out the PM’s lines, to engage and understand the position of others.”

Tory MP Alistair Burt, a staunch opponent of no-deal Brexit | Helene Wiesenhaan/Getty Images for IMCP

“After nearly a month of little direct communication it is an advance on that. I hope it prompts further efforts to reduce red lines, not reinforce them,” he added.

Another former Tory minister also hoped the letter was simply an “opening shot.”

If not, MPs fear things could turn nasty as Number 10 Downing Street looks to put the blame on the EU and Johnson’s domestic opponents.

“I fear hostile and combative discussions with aggressive language from No. 10 so opponents of no deal can be vilified,” the former minister said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

Lili Bayer, Jacopo Barigazzi, Rym Momtaz, Judith Mischke, Emma Anderson contributed reporting.

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UK government no-deal Brexit fears revealed in full

A leaked U.K. government report paints a grim picture of the fallout from a no-deal Brexit, from medicines shortages, multimonth slowdowns at ports and threats to clean drinking water.

Dubbed “Operation Yellowhammer,” the report prepared by the Cabinet Office and published by The Times imagines a “base scenario” on the Brexit crash-out date of October 31, marked by unprepared business, hostile EU member countries and impending cold weather that could exacerbate food and medical supply problems.

Further, the report notes the risk that “increasing EU Exit fatigue” could hamper contingency planning after the original March 29 Brexit date was postponed.

A person quoted in The Times as a “senior Whitehall source” said, “This is not Project Fear — this is the most realistic assessment of what the public face with no deal. These are likely, basic, reasonable scenarios — not the worst case.”

The government said while it did not expect such outcomes, they were being looked at as part of no-deal preparations, according to the BBC.

The release comes as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands by his position that Britain will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a Brexit deal, ahead of meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron expected Wednesday and Thursday.

As MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit mull ways to stop the U.K. crashing out of the bloc, Johnson reportedly told conservative MPs such efforts risked undermining the U.K.’s negotiating strategy. “It is as plain as a pikestaff that Brussels — or the EU 27 — will simply not compromise as long as they believe there is the faintest possibility that Parliament can block Brexit on 31 October,” Johnson wrote in a letter, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The government’s no-deal plans, printed in full by The Times today, anticipate a chaotic situation emerging at the Irish border. While the U.K. will initially stick to its March promise to avoid most new checks, that’s “likely to prove unsustainable because of economic, legal and biosecurity risks.”

Job losses and disruption to some industries “are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockades” around the Irish border.

On the first day of a no-deal Brexit, the flow of goods through French ports could be reduced by 40-60 percent of current levels, the plans warn, estimating that 50-85 percent of high-volume truck operators aren’t prepared for French customs checks. Even after three months, flow rates may only increase to 70 percent, “although disruption could continue much longer,” the plans state.

While the availability of drinking water is “likely to remain largely unaffected,” it remains a risk that disruptions in the availability of chemicals could affect the supply of clean water for “hundreds of thousands of people” on a localized basis.

Parts of the food supply chain — including the availability of fresh foods as well as ingredients and packaging — could also be impacted, leading to reduced choice and price rises, according to the no-deal plans.

More than 100 cross-party MPs wrote to Johnson on Saturday asking him to recall parliament from its summer break, arguing the country faces a “national emergency.”

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BMW to accelerate through Brexit crunch at electric Mini plant

BERLIN — German automaker BMW will move ahead with plans to produce an electric version of its iconic Mini at a factory in Oxford from November, despite potential post-Brexit chaos in importing key components from the Continent.

While the e-Mini will be put together at the Cowley site, which employs around 4,500 people and already builds the conventionally fuelled Mini, the drivetrain — a crucial part transferring power to the car’s wheels — will still be imported from southern Germany.

That means any problems with shipping parts from the Continent after a possible no-deal Brexit on October 31 could impact BMW’s ability to deliver the vehicle in large numbers. Company officials have previously hinted at plans to move some production of the conventional Mini to the Netherlands depending on the terms of Brexit, but for now executives are sticking with the e-Mini Oxford plan.

“The November start of production date [has] been in the plan for years and from long before the Brexit deadline reset, so this is no more than a coincidence,” Graham Biggs, a U.K.-based BMW director, told POLITICO, adding that BMW would “have to work around” any potential disruption caused by a disorderly Brexit on October 31.

The e-Mini is a key component of BMW’s broader electric shift, which was recently ramped up to include at least 25 new models by 2023. Around 45,000 customers have registered interest in buying the car, according to Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, almost half of whom are in the U.K.

At present, BMW imports about €2 billion worth of car parts into the U.K. from the EU every year to feed its production. In advance of the previously expected Brexit date of March 29, BMW scheduled an annual maintenance shutdown to mitigate any expected disruption at major import terminals around April 1, a feat it doesn’t plan to repeat this time.

BMW Customs Manager Stephan Freismuth said earlier this year that stockpiling beyond just a few days would not be feasible either. “We are producing ‘just in time,’ and just in sequence,” Freismuth said.

BMW’s outgoing CEO Harald Krüger has called for a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss Brexit and to mitigate any risk, while his incoming replacement, Oliver Zipse, is a former plant manager in Oxford.

Matthias Schmidt, a Berlin-based automotive analyst, reckons BMW might benefit from any loss of value of the pound and if things get really bad, it may choose to start “clandestinely shifting more production to the EU” and maintain just a modest output in the U.K. to serve the local market.

“The problem for BMW is that [the Mini’s] heritage and DNA belongs well and truly to the U.K.,” said Schmidt. “So the option to up sticks and shift the facility to mainland Europe doesn’t necessarily come into question.”

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