Boris Johnson demands Irish backstop is axed from Brexit deal in warning letter to Brussels: Brexit News for Thursday 22 August

Boris Johnson demands Irish backstop is axed from Brexit deal in warning letter to Brussels: Brexit News for Thursday 22 August
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Boris Johnson demands Irish backstop is axed from Brexit deal in warning letter to Brussels… 

Boris Johnson last night made a new offer to the EU in a bid to end the Brexit deal impasse. The PM said he was ready to look at new legally binding “commitments” to guarantee the Irish border is kept open if the new system is not ready in time. It came as he wrote a four-page letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk to demand the backstop is axed. He wants the controversial insurance mechanism that keeps the UK tied to EU customs rules in the wake of a No Deal replaced by a system of stand-off border checks. Imploring EU leaders to engage with his plan, he wrote: “The UK is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope the EU will be ready to do likewise. I am equally confident our Parliament is able to act rapidly if we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement which did not contain the backstop.” – The Sun

  • ‘No prospect’ of a deal unless backstop is dropped – BBC News

…and German Chancellor gives PM thirty days to ditch the backstop…

Boris Johnson has been given 30 days to come up with a solution to the Northern Irish backstop and forge a new Brexit deal with the European Union. Angela Merkel suggested she would be willing to ditch the controversial backstop if the UK can agree a suitable alternative by Sept 20. The Prime Minister said he was “more than happy” with the German Chancellor’s suggestion and said Brexit talks “can finally begin”. Ms Merkel’s comments were seen as a victory for Mr Johnson on his first trip abroad as Prime Minister, ahead of a meeting with Emmanuel Macron on Thursday and the G7 summit this weekend. The prospect of reaching a deal could also help Mr Johnson fend off Tory rebels who oppose no-deal should Jeremy Corbyn call a no-confidence vote in early September. – Telegraph (£)

…but Macron says fresh deal ‘not an option’ after Merkel’s olive branch…

Emmanuel Macron has told Boris Johnson that a fresh Brexit deal is “not an option” as the PM arrives in Paris today for more showdown talks. The French President is set to play hardball with BoJo, hours after Angela Merkel’s olive branch to him last night. Yesterday’s comments that he expects Britain to pay the £39billion divorce bill even if we leave the EU without a deal infuriated Brexiteers. But in Boris’ first overseas trip since he got into Downing Street, yesterday the German Chancellor said a solution to the Irish border dilemma could be done in 30 days – and challenged him to come up with ideas. BoJo accepted her call and said the onus was on Britain to come up with a plan. Earlier this week he floated the idea of trusted trader schemes and electronic customs checks as possible ideas. He told Mrs Merkel to her face that the backstop had to go and wouldn’t pass through Parliament.

  • Boris Johnson set for showdown in Paris as allies say meeting with President Macron will be a ‘discussion’ – Telegraph (£)

…and demands Britain pay £39billion Brexit divorce bill even if Boris takes us out without a deal

French President Emmanuel Macron has demanded that Britain pay the EU £39billion in a divorce bill – even in a No Deal Brexit. A French official in Mr Macron’s office said today that they think a No Deal Brexit is now the most likely outcome. “The scenario that is now becoming the most likely is the No Deal scenario,” they said today as Boris flew into Germany for talks with Angela Merkel. If the United Kingdom considers that having a backstop is absolutely excluded, that is its right, but in that case it limits the possibility of reaching an agreement.” Stubborn EU bosses say they can’t possibly re-open the withdrawal agreement to rip out the hated backstop – putting Britain on course for leaving without a deal. – The Sun

Rebels can’t halt no‑deal Brexit, Boris Johnson warns EU

Boris Johnson will tell Angela Merkel today that parliament cannot stop Britain leaving the European Union without a deal on October 31. Amid an intensifying row with Brussels, the prime minister will warn the German chancellor over dinner in Berlin that there will be no Brexit agreement unless the EU backs down and agrees to scrap the Irish backstop. The tough approach comes after Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, highlighted attempts by Remainer Tory MPs to stop a no-deal Brexit during a one-hour call with Mr Johnson on Monday night. Downing Street believes that Brussels is unlikely to enter into negotiations over a new agreement while parliamentary attempts to stop a no-deal exit and potentially bring down Mr Johnson’s government continue. The government has announced that British officials will stop attending most EU meetings in ten days’ time to concentrate on preparations for Brexit. – The Times (£)

EU issues damning dismissal of Boris Johnson’s Brexit backstop plan

Boris Johnson will fly to the continent tomorrow and is set on a collision course with EU leaders after they rejected his demand to scrap the Irish backstop. Brussels issued a damning dismissal of Mr Johnson’s call to scrap the policy, while Angela Merkel said a “practical solution” would have to be found without reopening the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May. Mr Johnson had sent a letter to EU officials calling for the Irish border backstop to be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement but presented no alternative to the policy. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, effectively accused the prime minister of wanting to wind the clock back on the Northern Ireland peace process, as well as deception. “The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found,” Mr Tusk said on Tuesday.  – Independent

UK officials to skip most EU meetings from next month

British officials will stop attending most EU meetings from September, the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, has said, suggesting his department will slash attendance by more than half to “unshackle” officials and ministers. The government will only send officials to EU meetings at which the UK has “a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions, such as on security” and will instead focus on countries outside the bloc. Barclay said the numbers of meetings attended would be cut by more than half, dramatically reducing workload and preparation time. “An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings, with attendance just the tip of the iceberg. Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings,” he said. “From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours. This will free up time for ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on 31 October and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.” – Guardian

Labour splits widen as Diane Abbott vows to support Remain over her party’s Brexit deal…

Labour Brexit divisions have spilled over once more after Diane Abbott became the third shadow cabinet member to declare she would campaign to stay in the EU over a deal negotiated by her own party. In a move that heaps fresh pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, the shadow home secretary said she was determined to personally support Remain as it was the “best option for the country and my constituents”. Her comments come after John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, both declared they would campaign for Remain against a Labour Brexit deal. Labour has vowed to hold a fresh referendum if Mr Corbyn is elected, with the option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper against a Brexit deal. But the public support for staying in the EU from senior shadow cabinet figures goes further than the party’s official policy. – Independent

…and Jeremy Corbyn refuses to echo allies’ Brexit position…

Jeremy Corbyn has refused to follow two senior colleagues who say they would back Remain in any further Brexit referendum. His close allies Diane Abbott and John McDonnell both say they would campaign for Remain, regardless of the other options on the ballot paper. But the Labour leader chose only to say he would campaign for Remain if the alternative was no deal. Earlier, Ms Abbott said Mr Corbyn would “follow what the party says”. The Labour leader has been under pressure for months to give his full-throated support to continued EU membership. More and more of his senior colleagues have come round to that position, some blaming lacklustre election results for the party earlier this year on its Brexit equivocation. Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn was asked whether he too would campaign for Remain, even against an alternative Brexit deal negotiated by any future Labour government. He replied: “What we’ve said is, if it’s no deal or Remain, we’ll campaign for Remain.” Pressed for further clarification, he repeated: “Between no deal and remain, I’ll argue for remain.” – BBC News

> WATCH: Jeremy Corbyn sets out plan to stop a no-deal Brexit, during his speech in Corby

…but invites senior politicians including Tory MPs to talks on averting no-deal Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn has invited senior politicians including several Conservative MPs to a meeting to discuss averting a no-deal Brexit next week. The news came as a senior Tory Brexiteer warned Boris Johnson that removing the Northern Ireland backstop from Britain’s Brexit deal will not be enough to win the support of hardline Eurosceptic Tory MPs. In the letter, Mr Corbyn said: “The country is heading into a constitutional and political storm, so it is vital that we meet urgently, before Parliament returns. The chaos and dislocation of Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit is real and threatening, as the Government’s leaked Operation Yellowhammer dossier makes crystal clear.” – Telegraph (£)

Corbyn demands release of latest no-deal Brexit assessments

Jeremy Corbyn has demanded that Boris Johnson immediately publish the Operation Yellowhammer assessments of how disruptive a no-deal Brexit would be after ministers claimed a leaked version from less than three weeks ago was out of date and full of scaremongering. The Labour leader said it was essential that businesses be given an accurate assessment of the difficulties they may face under a no-deal Brexit, arguing that Johnson’s reassurances “cannot be trusted”. The prime minister claimed on Monday that a no-deal Brexit would merely involve “bumps in the road”, despite the leaked Yellowhammer document predicting shortages of food, medicine and fuel. – Guardian

DUP and SF clash over Johnson’s claim Brexit backstop a threat to peace…

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have clashed over Boris Johnson’s claim that the backstop would damage the peace process. Sinn Fein accused the Prime Minister of “rank hypocrisy”, insisting a no-deal Brexit is what could endanger the peace, while the DUP said the EU had to accept that political unionism would not accept the contentious measure. The Alliance Party accused Mr Johnson of being “reckless and disingenuous”. The Prime Minister outlined a number of reasons for his demand for the EU to ditch the backstop in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk. – Belfast Telegraph

…as DUP chief whip savages Tusk for butchering the Good Friday Agreement

Donald Tusk is attempting to butcher the Good Friday Agreement himself despite redirecting the blame at Boris Johnson, a DUP leader has claimed. The Democratic Unionist Party’s Chief Whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC’s World at One that the European Council President’s tweet, which attacked those attempting to the remove the backstop on the basis that it would bring back a hard border between the UK and Ireland, was just an attempt to offset the fact that the EU leader’s proposal was even worse. He explained: “I don’t agree with Donald Tusk at all on this. In fact, if we were to proceed with the backstop in the withdrawal agreement in its current form, we would create a new border. “So we would have two borders: one on the island of Ireland and one in the Irish Sea. So how does Donald Tusk think that upholds the principles of the Good Friday Agreement? Of course, it doesn’t. And the reality is that the Good Friday Agreement was an agreement between unionists and nationalists.” – Expres

Ministers hand firms vital trading codes to keep goods moving after Brexit

Ministers will step up efforts to smooth the flow of goods after Brexit by more than doubling the number of businesses enrolled with a vital EU trading number. HM Revenue & Customs will give more than 88,000 VAT-registered businesses an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) code in the next two weeks to ease trade with EU companies. An EORI number is needed to move goods in and out of the EU and businesses would face higher costs and delays without the code. A total of 160,000 companies will have the EORI number out of the 240,000 that HMRC said needed to take action to continue trading with the EU. Companies that are being auto-enrolled will be informed by letter from today. – Telegraph (£)

UK and South Korea to sign ‘continuity’ trade agreement

The UK will sign a “continuity” trade agreement with South Korea on Thursday, allowing businesses to keep trading freely after Brexit. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss will sign the agreement with her South Korean counterpart Yoo Myung-hee in London. The two countries agreed to a preliminary deal in June, marking the first post-Brexit deal secured in Asia. Trade between the UK and South Korea totalled £14.6bn ($17.7bn) in 2018. The agreement is roughly in line with the terms of the existing Korea-EU free trade deal. The UK has sought to secure agreements with its trading partners as it prepares to leave the European Union in October. “My priority is to make sure that British businesses are fully prepared for Brexit and ready to trade on Thursday 31 October,” Ms Truss said in a statement. – BBC News

Low-level EU criminals face being deported in post-Brexit immigration clampdown

Low-level EU criminals face being deported from Britain in a new immigration clampdown after Brexit. PM Boris Johnson has ordered the Home Office to draw up the new powers immediately after the October 31 exit date. The PM and Home Secretary Priti Patel want to prove to voters that freedom of movement will have ended and a central referendum campaign pledge has been delivered on. Border officials will be able to enforce the UK’s much tougher criminality rules affecting the rights of EU citizens here — allowing them to be ejected if they have been sentenced to a year or more in prison. The EU’s higher threshold only allows deportation on the grounds of public security, meaning the criminal has to be dangerously violent. Mr Johnson ordered the changes after fearing Theresa May’s post-exit immigration plans didn’t go far enough, and will unveil the blueprint in full soon. – The Sun

Get on with Brexit, says Stuart Rose, former chairman of Remain campaign

The former chairman of the Remain campaign has dismissed calls for a second referendum, claiming that politicians should abide by the “democratic process” and “get on with it”. Lord Rose of Monewden, who also previously served as executive chairman of Marks and Spencer, said that he believed the UK should have already left the European Union with an “agreed friendly divorce”. Asked if he was now calling for another poll due to the increased prospect of no-deal, the former head of Britain Stronger in Europe said: “No, I’m not. I’m saying listen, we made our decision, it’s democratic decision, let’s go with it in the best possible way we can. “I am a Remainer but I do believe in a democratic process. My personal view is that we have to get on with it. I’m rather sad that we haven’t already got on with it. “I do believe, or did believe, that we should have an agreed ‘friendly divorce’.” However, Lord Rose warned that Mr Johnson’s hardline position on a Brexit deal meant “clearly that now is at risk,” adding: “We are playing a very high stakes poker game.” – Telegraph (£)

Sir David Attenborough blasts EU over ‘silly’ interference in UK affairs, saying British people are ‘fed up’

Sir David Attenborough has said that many people in the UK are “fed up” with the European Union over its “silly” interference in British affairs. In a wide-ranging interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the naturalist and broadcaster said the EU might not have paid enough attention to what people cared about and had allowed itself to do things that irritate people. While some people in South America and Africa “are faced with hideous problems, meanwhile we are occupied with these silly squabbles about Brexit”, he added. “I think that the irritation of the ways in which the European community has interfered with people’s lives on silly levels or silly issues has irritated a lot of people who don’t actually understand what the advantages and the disadvantages are,” he told the paper. “They’re just fed up with somebody over there who doesn’t speak their language, telling him how much money they’ve got to charge for tomatoes or something silly.” – Telegraph (£)

Greg Hands: One might think that no-one in Brussels has read our Alternative Arrangements report

On the face of it, this week’s exchange of letters between Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk doesn’t offer a lot of encouragement for the great majority of us who do want to see a Brexit deal done between London and Brussels.Tusk’s response in particular, came across as rather intransigent, even absurdly claiming that the Prime Minister is seeking a return of a hard border in Ireland. Both Johnson and Jeremy Hunt warmly welcomed our report during the recent Conservative leadership campaign. It should therefore not have a been a surprise to Messrs Tusk and Juncker that Alternative Arrangements would form the explicit or implicit basis of a refreshed UK approach on Brexit. The Prime Minister’s letter was, in my opinion, carefully crafted to be both realistic and conciliatory on what could be done, but one thing was clear, that the backstop could not form part of the deal, as it won’t pass the Commons. A Brussels spokesman quoted by the BBC claimed to not know much about Alternative Arrangements at all, asserting that the Prime Minister’s letter “does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be” and there was “no guarantee” they would be ready by the end of the transition period. – Greg Hands MP for ConservativeHome

Shanker Singham: EU leaders have got it wrong, there are plenty of solutions to the Irish border problem

Boris Johnson has made a strong opening bid in his negotiations with the EU. During this process, several things are strikingly different from the previous government. First, there is no requirement to achieve “frictionless trade”, only “as frictionless as possible” which is the goal of every free trade agreement. The EU recognises that completely frictionless trade can only be delivered by the Customs Union and Single Market, which is why Theresa May’s government was heading in that direction. By changing this, the Johnson administration is seeking a new settlement which is more readily understood by the EU (and indeed all trading partners). In the words of Michel Barnier himself, it is a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the whole of the UK with Irish border facilitations, customs facilitations and regulatory cooperation. Since both parties want this, it should be relatively easy to amend the political declaration to reflect this fact by removing references to single customs territories and to the need to build on the backstop. – Shanker Singham for the Telegraph (£)

Andrew Lilico: Boris should welcome an early General Election after Brexit, and the chance to eject the no-deal wreckers once and for all

Senior Tory MPs are reportedly calling on Boris Johnson to trigger a snap election rather than wait to be voted down on a No Confidence motion. Yet the PM is said to be adamant that an election is a bad idea; arguing that there have been many elections in recent years, and that the public now expects politicians to get on and complete Brexit — which he says will happen, “do or die”, on October 31. His Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay has even been photographed signing the “commencement order” formally ending our membership as of that date. – Andrew Lilico for the Telegraph (£)

Stewart Jackson: The EU has shown it is willing to gamble everything to preserve its theological attachment to the Single Market

As the Prime Minister prepares for this week’s G7 meeting in Biarritz and bilateral meetings with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, he will reflect that for the first time in several years, that the UK, while not in an unambiguously advantageous position, is back in the diplomatic game on Article 50 negotiations. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech yesterday surely removed some political domestic pressure from the PM too. Nine years out of office, the Labour Party are polling at historically low levels, are bitterly divided and on the cusp of civil war. Meanwhile, Corbyn’s leadership ratings are embarrassingly poor, his party is shedding members and their funding is under pressure just two months before a potential General Election – and Labour’s Brexit policy is inauthentic, confused and unintelligible to the wider electorate outside the hard Left Corbynista cultists. – Stewart Jackson for the Telegraph (£)

Asa Bennett: Boris Johnson is leaving Brussels in no doubt about what he wants as a Brexit deal

European leaders knew the most damning way to dismiss Theresa May’s demands was to act like they had no idea what she actually wanted in the Brexit negotiations, as it suggested she was failing to make her mark. Jean-Claude Juncker repeatedly affected to be in the dark about what the United Kingdom was seeking. There were early claims that he spent only 30 minutes a week thinking about Brexit, with his routine culminating this February in his notorious stare-off with Mrs May after he dismissed her demands as “nebulous”. Once the then Prime Minister had agreed a deal, her European counterparts ladled on the praise. Mr Juncker waxed lyrical after the backstop had been hammered out about how “tough, smart, polite” she was, while Michel Barnier called her “courageous”. Given the political grief the Irish protocol ended up causing her, Monsieur Barnier must have meant “courageous” in the same sense Sir Humphrey Appleby does in Yes Minister. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Madeline Grant: My trip to Poland left me more convinced than ever that we are right to leave the EU to fulfil its superstate ambitions

I’ve just returned from a few days at a literary festival, brilliantly organised by the Municipal Public Library and the city of Sopot, a pretty coastal resort in northern Poland. Our panel, co-ordinated by the Academy of Ideas, featured one Remainer and two Brexiteers, whom the predominantly Polish and overwhelmingly Europhile audience viewed with a mixture of bemusement and suspicion. We discussed the benefits of the nation state and opportunities for democratic renewal after Brexit, stressing that though most Brits love Europe, few are particularly enamoured of the EU itself. I argued that many Brexiteers would have been content to stay in the EU, but for its irresistible post-Maastricht descent into ever closer union, tax harmonisation, consolidated military structures and so on. – Madeline Grant for the Telegraph (£)

Mark Brolin: Here are five ways to make the civil service ready to deliver Brexit by October 31

The recently leaked Yellowhammer document – which highlights nothing but problems – illustrates how deeply ingrained the Brexit cannot-do-spirit is among many civil servants. As if it is practically irresolvable to return to a sovereign nation status, regardless of the fact that this was the norm only a few decades ago. Jumping up and down in anger – against the way of the world – will not help. What we are experiencing presently – obstruction politics carried out with the zealotry of those acting in good faith – is precisely how things play out during times of transition. That is why most institutionalised civil servants, a century back, were fighting the Labour counterrevolution against right-wing overstretch. – Mark Brolin for the Telegraph (£)

Telegraph: If EU leaders want to avoid no-deal they must start taking the PM seriously

The Brexit saga is rapidly coming to a head. Boris Johnson, who travels to Berlin for talks with Angela Merkel today, has told the EU that unless they reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and ditch the Irish backstop there will be no deal, and maybe not even then. Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, responded by saying this could not be done because the backstop was there to prevent a hard border. This makes no sense. The British Government has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of establishing a hard border; yet if there is no deal the EU will have to put one in place to protect its internal market from goods leaking across from the UK. The EU needs to understand that the politics of Brexit have changed since the resignation of Theresa May and they must be more flexible if any progress is to be made before the October 31 deadline. Mr Tusk is burying his head in the sand. Perhaps the Commission still believes that Parliament will block Mr Johnson or topple his Government, either of which is possible. – Telegraph (£) editorial

Nigel Farage: I hope I’m wrong about Boris Johnson, but I fear a great Brexit stitch-up is coming

It was good while it lasted. For several weeks, Boris Johnson gave the impression of being a true Brexiteer – so much so that some people even began to ask: “What is the point of the Brexit Party?” Most no-dealers in the country cheered every statement the Prime Minister made and this week the Government even announced that free movement of people would end on October 31. At last, it seemed, the referendum vote was being acted upon. But don’t be fooled by the PR blitz. For this week, in his four-page letter to Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, we have also seen the other Boris Johnson; the man who, in March, voted for the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland backstop at the third time of asking. Some might say this is the “real” Johnson. In his letter, Johnson says securing a “deal” is his “highest priority”. Rather than leaving the EU on October 31, it looks as though Johnson wants Britain to enter into a transition period on that day. This, for him, is his “highest priority”. Furthermore, surely the most disappointing part of his “Dear Donald” letter is his failure to mention leaving the EU without a deal. – Nigel Farage MEP for the Telegraph (£)

Paul Goodman: This Commons won’t accept the Northern Ireland backstop. That’s the reality – whether the EU likes it or not

One would scarcely know it from Donald Tusk’s response to Boris Johnson’s letter. But the EU itself is obliged to “work at speed” to ensure that alternative arrangements to the Northern Ireland backstop are found by January 2021 – that’s to say, in less than 18 months. There is even to be a “dedicated track…embedded in the overall negotiation structure”. This is to guarantee that no effort is spared – with regular reviews “at each subsequent high level conference”. All this is set out in the joint statement agreed by the EU and UK shortly before the second meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. The European Council President made no reference to this pledge whatsoever, dismissing the Prime Minister’s letter as “not proposing realistic alternatives” – rather than, as the EU is committed to do, proposing positively to seek alternative arrangements, rather than simply and negatively to dismiss any ideas put forward. In a certain sense, however, one cannot blame Tusk. The “backstop solution in the Protocol on Northern Ireland”, as he called it, works for the EU and for Ireland, for two main reasons. – Paul Goodman for ConservativeHome

Brexit in Brief

  • Here’s why we can survive No Deal far better than the pessimists fear – Matthew Lynn for the Telegraph (£)
  • Nigel Farage must be prepared to stand down his victorious Brexit army – Allister Heath for the Telegraph (£)
  • Boris Johnson’s goodwill, and no backstop, is not enough to stop a hard border in Ireland – Neal Richmond for the Telegraph (£)
  • Marco Pierre White brands Jamie Oliver ‘delusional’ for blaming the collapse of his restaurant empire on Brexit – The Sun