Due to being completely behind the eight ball due to travel yesterday and some nasty but thank goodness ultimately false alarms, now aging parent duty, this Brexit post will be fragmentary. Enough nutty stuff has happened in the last few days so as to warrant letting our expert commentariat have a say or two about it. It would be easy to see this as Peak Crazy, but given the leadership of the UK, that would likely be a premature call.
BoJo promises the impossible…as usual. Despite making noises that sounded an awful lot like preliminaries to a leadership bid, as Politico summed it up, Johnson rounded on Chequers but made a point of saying nice things about Theresa May. That fits my pet theory that the Ultras never wanted to be in charge, all they need to do is obstruct.
But Johnson did manage to do more damage to the public’s understanding of what is attainable from Brexit talks. :
“This is the moment”, Johnson said, “to chuck Chequers…”. That got him prolonged applause, as one might expect. But then he continued with: wanting “to scrap the Commission’s constitutionally abominable Northern Ireland backstop”. That got him more applause.
He would then, he told his admirers, “use the otherwise redundant and miserable ‘implementation period’ to the end of 2020 to negotiate the Supercanada FTA”. That got him still more applause, whence he added that we would also “invest in all the customs procedures that may be needed to ensure continued frictionless trade, and to prepare much more vigorously for coming out on WTO terms”.
Yet, anyone schooled in the terms insisted upon by the EU would have known instantly that without a “backstop”, there would be no withdrawal agreement and no “implementation period” – otherwise known as the transitional period – ending in December 2020.
On that basis, there would be no continued negotiations – no “Supercanada”. We would drop out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal, working solely within the framework of WTO rules.
And there Johnson was not only misleading his audience but also confusing himself. If we were supposed to be negotiating with the EU on this free trade deal, there would certainly be a need to invest in customs procedures, but there could hardly be any need to prepare for coming out on WTO terms. An FTA and the WTO option are mutually exclusive.
Homing in on the crux of what Mr Johnson was telling us, therefore – his message was – whether intended or not – that we should opt for a “no deal” Brexit.
DUP throws a very big spanner in the works. Speaking of that backstop….for those of you who remember the surprise gambit of the EU allowing the UK to miss the deadline of solving the Irish border problem by having the Government agree to the Joint Agreement last December, which of course included the backstop? The DUP did the verbal equivalent of making a sour face but didn’t want to look like a spoiler and threaten to bring the Government down.
It has no such compunctions now.
Meeting with Prime Minister just ended. NO border in the Irish Sea will ever be acceptable to unionists throughout the UK . . . regulatory or otherwise.
— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader)
Mind you, it was predictable that the DUP would balk at the backstop. But having Foster throw her weight around in such a thuggish manner appears to have caught a lot of key players by surprise. Our Clive sent with more detail on Foster’s preview of her meeting:
DUP leader Arlene Foster says she has “concerns” over the Chancellor’s claim that there may have to be a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.Philip Hammond is reported to have told a Tory conference fringe event that in the event of no deal, London, under World Trade Organisation rules, would have to reinstate checks.
Ms Foster, speaking at a DUP fringe event, said any extra checks would cause “difficulty” and added that she would be “reiterating” her position on the border issue to the Prime Minister…
Ms Foster was greeted with applause after telling the crowd she would not allow Northern Ireland to become a “semi-detached” part of the UK. She said: “We are not going to allow the United Kingdom to be broken up by Brussels or by anybody else, Northern Ireland is not about to become a semi-detached part of the United Kingdom. “We are not bluffing on this issue, we are very clear, our job is to protect the union, our job is to do what is right for Northern Ireland and you can be assured that we will do that.” Asked about the Chancellor’s reported remarks that if the UK operates on WTO terms, checks at the border will be required, Ms Foster said: “I have concerns.”
She added: “That’s news, because of course up until now we have been saying that it will not be the UK that will be enforcing any borders. If the European Union feel that they need to have a border in Ireland that’s a matter for them if they feel they have to protect their single market in a particular way. “So Philip Hammond talking about a border is something new, something we want to explore as well, because certainly that’s not my understanding.”
Mrs May’s team remain confident that the government’s solution to the backstop will be enough to address the DUP’s main concerns. One cabinet minister noted the carefully worded DUP objections still left space for a deal.
Nigel Dodds, the deputy DUP leader, laid out conditions for accepting a backstop, saying: “It can’t be forever, it must be time limited, it must be finite. It cannot bind Northern Ireland into arrangements that the rest of the United Kingdom is not tied up to.”
To meet such concerns, Mrs May has focused on ensuring the backstop includes UK-wide arrangements that could temporarily keep Britain in what would be, in effect, a common customs territory with the EU. By contrast, only Northern Ireland would be directly bound by EU regulations.
British negotiators are looking to revise parts of the UK’s original proposal — called the Temporary Customs Arrangement — to try to overcome Brussels’ objections to its legality and workability.
Mrs May’s allies say that Britain might stay in a “temporary” customs union for “a few months” after the end of a transition deal in January 2021, in the event that a final Brexit trade deal had not been ratified or if more time were needed to allow new technology to be deployed.
Some cabinet ministers admit such an extension might last for “several years”, curtailing Britain’s ability to strike trade deals into the 2020s.
First, May’s confidence is a negative indicator. Second, the EU will never accept an arrangement where they have no assurance of the end date. And something that might last a few years is probably unacceptable under WTO rules, which bars preferential arrangements save on an actual temporary basis.
(hat tip PlutoniumKun):
If they bring Theresa May’s house down, it’s hard to see where else the DUP will find a safe billet. Plenty of Brexiteers see the border problem as a case of the tail wagging the dog. And while they’ll connive with the DUP against Chequers, many will part company with the DUP if they hold out for no checks of any kind and go on to frustrate the alternative Canada free trade deal. Mrs May opposes this because it would kick in the backstop – about which the Brexiteers appear to be in denial . Confused? Join the club….
How serious are the DUP’s threats? Arch remainer Scotland’s First minister Nicola Sturgeon says
I suspect this is a far more significant development today than the latest Boris Johnson circus.
And from ITV Pol Ed Robert Peston:
If you read my blog or watched my vlog yesterday, you will know @DUPleader is here ripping up @theresa_may’s compromise for Irish backstop, on which any Brexit deal will rest. May will be asking herself how on earth she avoids no-deal Brexit
And even more fun, Foster also threatened the Good Friday Agreement. I guess if you plan to burn the house down, why not throw some gas on the fire? :
Arlene Foster has said the Good Friday Agreement is not “sacrosanct”, insisting the landmark peace treaty could be altered to accommodate a Brexit deal.
The DUP leader, whose party props up Theresa May’s government, said the historic agreement “could evolve” in the EU context and expressed frustration at warnings from pro-EU campaigners over Brexit’s potential to undermine aspects of the international treaty….
She also poured cold water on Ms May’s idea of having regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, saying: “It’s our one red line”.
Critics accused Ms Foster of “reckless and desperate stuff” and condemned her for prioritising her party’s “cosy deal” with the Conservatives over the ongoing risk of violence in Northern Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement is not up for negotiation in Brexit talks.
— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo)
The comments by Arlene Foster in relation to the Good Friday Agreement "reveal a reckless disregard for the peace process, for prosperity and progress" –
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland)
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said DUP leader Arlene Foster's suggestion that the Good Friday Agreement is not "sacrosant" is "reckless"
— BBC News NI (@BBCNewsNI)
Fianna Fáil's spokesperson accuses the of displaying "an ignorance and an arrogance" and said her party is "worried" by Arlene Foster's comments about the Good Friday Agreement
— Conor McMorrow (@ConorMcMorrow)
BREXIT: Furious social media backlash at Arlene Foster's Good Friday Agreement 'not sacrosanct' remark.
— Derry Journal (@derryjournal)
At least someone had a sense of humor:
If we don’t want the DUP to touch the Good Friday Agreement we should just tell Arlene Foster it’s gay.
— Mallow News (@MallowNews)
Foster is not backing down:
DUP leader Arlene Foster defends her comments on the Good Friday Agreement and says they have been "blown out of all proportion."
— BBC News NI (@BBCNewsNI)
Which is dodgy given this observation by e-mail by PlutoniumKun:
The DUP are trying to walk a political tightrope over the border. They would love nothing more than a hard border, but a great many of their supporters (mostly small farmers and townspeople, many close to the border), know this will be an economic calamity in an already suffering area. I linked yesterday to a poll indicating that 71% of Northern Irelanders (excluding ‘don’t knows’) are now ‘Remainers’. So while the DUP are digging in, they are clearly losing their own supporters over this – hence their pretence that they are for Brexit and an open border, its only the dastardly EU and Dublin that would insist on border barriers. Hammond blew that out of the water (intentionally or not, I don’t know) yesterday. The DUP are in deep danger of splitting Unionism down the middle over this, and they are likely to be the losers if that happens.
But they are certainly painting themselves into a corner politically. They are of course right that no agreement can’t be rewritten, but there is no realistic possibility of this occuring with the GFA, all nationalists would be united in refusing to engage. May has to decide whether to jettison them or not, and when it comes to the crunch, they are expendable, I don’t think they realise this as they live in their own little bubble.
Brexit looks to have entered the state that Lambert calls “an overly dynamic situation.” Among other things, that means that obvious lunacy, as opposed to the sort that the Government and the press barons could package up to look reasonable, is the new normal. And we aren’t the only ones to reach this conclusion. , again courtesy PlutoniumKun:
Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains – no matter how improbable – must be the truth. Which means that the only rational explanation for the current behaviour of the Tory party is that most of its members are out of their heads on psychotropic drugs. The Birmingham conference centre has been transformed into the country’s largest crack den, with the entire cabinet and the gobbiest MPs fighting over what’s left of their stash while competing to pass off their version of fantasy as reality.