It’s ‘crunch time’, or: ‘we entered the tunnel’, or: we’re in ‘intense negotiations’, depending on ‘the sources’. While the actual details of that ‘Liverpool Plan’ haven’t been published as of yet, speculations abound – is it a fudge? Is it workable? What will the HoC do? And what do the EU Masters say? And then there’s “The Timetable”: one for the EU, one for us. So let’s crunch our way through the tunnel and the fudge.
Firstly, the weekend editions of the online papers are full of interpretations. I have to recommend you check out the non-paywalled online papers so I can restrict my quotes to those from the paywalled ones. That’s no disrespect, it’s only a question of space constraints which I’m already transgressing …
Now then – as expected, M Barnier first had to get permission from the EU to enter that tunnel:
“After what he said was a two-hour “constructive meeting” over breakfast in Brussels with Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, Mr Barnier addressed EU-27 ambassadors and was given the go-ahead to “begin tunnel negotiations”, a source inside the room told The Daily Telegraph. “Tunnel” negotiations refer to intensive talks both sides hold secretly, without briefing ambassadors or MEPs until they are over.” (paywalled link)
Peter Foster, the resident Remain editor at the DT, with great ‘sources’ inside Brussels, has an ‘atmospheric’ piece which made my blood boil. Spinning for Merkel and the EU, he writes:
“In his party conference speech Mr Johnson had tried to downplay the impasse over customs in Ireland as a mere “technical discussion” that could not seriously be allowed to hold up Brexit. The discussion with Mrs Merkel appeared to disabuse him of that idea. One account of the call is that – far from the acrimonious exchange briefed by Number 10 – it was “calm and constructive” and Mrs Merkel spent 40 minutes going through the issues with Mr Johnson in considerable technical detail. Perhaps when the history of Brexit is written, historians will look back on that call not as the moment that talks broke down, but that the penny dropped in London that technology really cannot make a customs border disappear.” (paywalled link)
See – all progress is due to The EU Empress who had to ‘teach’ Johnson how to work out a Backstop Agreement. This raised my hackles, not just because of the implied belittling of our PM but because of our experience with May and her Chequers WA proposal which was written for her in Germany.
I think we have the right to remain suspicious, the more so given this synopsis just in from BrexitCentral in their email newsletter:
“Barnier told EU diplomats yesterday that the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay understood the EU’s view that any border solution must be legally operative and cannot be time-limited. In his meeting with Barclay, the EU negotiator dismissed the idea that the EU should make concessions because the UK had moved. He told him that the “Stormont veto” was unacceptable but he also told them that the UK is constrained by its legal red lines on customs which apparently is a reference to the amendments the ERG successfully proposed to the May Government’s Customs Bill in July 2018 which effectively forbid Northern Ireland from having a different customs arrangement to the rest of the UK.”
Again, M Barnier ‘speaketh with forked tongue’, so let’s not count the Brexit chickens as of yet. Moreover, looking at the timetable for the coming week it’s entirely proper to suspect that this is not going to be plain Brexit sailing. Here it is:
“Tomorrow – President Macron and Angela Merkel meet for a dinner that will go a long way to deciding whether proposals discussed by Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar will be accepted by other EU states.
Monday – The government sets out legislative proposals in a Queen’s Speech. In Brussels Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, briefs ambassadors on the progress of talks, a key moment in knowing whether a deal is possible.
Tuesday – Ministers from across the EU meet in Luxembourg. An outline of a deal must be agreed if it is to be signed off by the end of the week.
Wednesday – Mr Macron and Ms Merkel meet in Paris and hope to have an agreed stance.
Thursday – EU leaders begin debating approval of the deal or a delay to Brexit at the crucial European Council summit.
Friday – We will know what the council has — or has not — agreed.
Saturday – Parliament sits on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands conflict.” (link, paywalled)
And so the attention of the Brexit commentariat, Remain or Leave, turns to our domestic politicians – that’s the peacocking Remain MPs in our HoC. There is of course the DUP. Will Arlene Foster, will the DUP MPs agree to ‘the Fudge’? Here is what has been carefully leaked:
“Under the plans Britain would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU for goods ending up in Northern Ireland and companies could claim rebates. Northern Ireland effectively stays in the EU’s customs union but for the purposes of trade it’s in the UK’s customs union,” a source familiar with the plans said. “It’s a fudge.” (link, paywalled)
At the moment, the DUP is looking at the small print:
“The DUP gave a guarded welcome to the proposed compromise. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, issued a warning that any Brexit deal that traps Northern Ireland in EU structures will not get DUP support.” (paywalled link)
Expect the Remain blame game to come to full fruition over the weekend, the starting shot having been fired by Mr Matthew Parris – who else! – in RemainCentral, of course. I must give him credit for basing his thoughts on looking at what had not happened:
“The Spartans, as ERG hardliners like to describe themselves, together with the Democratic Unionist Party, could block the “pathway to a deal” […] ERG hesitation told me they hadn’t yet decided what to think. Some but not all of them will take their cue from the DUP, others won’t outsource their judgment in this way. None, I sense, wants to be the first to indicate. Most (I think) fear speaking out of turn. Most will follow where the heavyweights decide to lead. […] The pause is indicative. Do they go into battle or declare limited victory? Not sure.” (link, paywalled)
Well – it might just be that they are looking at the small print, like the DUP – if they’ve been provided with something. Parris then ponders what the Remain Harlots might do, noting that they’ve also been silent so far:
“Some among the 21 expelled from the Conservative parliamentary party will leap at a Varadkar-Johnson deal. Rory Stewart is an example, and Philip Hammond would surely accept it too. Others have not watched their careers go (in Downing Street’s elegant new phraseology) “down the toilet” only to creep back, soiled, behind Johnson. Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the rebel alliance might support a deal on condition of a confirmatory referendum but if Johnson proposed that, many on his own side might peel off.” (link, paywalled)
Meanwhile, the inimitable Sir John Redwood has a stern warning in today’s Diary which I urge you to read.
And thus to ‘Crunch Saturday’ in a week’s time! It is of course too early to expect a prettily tied-up ‘deal’ from the EU because, as pointed out above, the ’Two M’ must give their consent before the EU summit gives theirs next Friday. This is what is planned by Johnson:
“The prime minister is preparing to hold a vote on his deal on a “Super Saturday” sitting of parliament as he challenges members to endorse his approach or force through a Brexit delay. If the vote passes, parliament will sit for seven days a week, late into the night, as he seeks to push legislation through the Commons and the Lords with less than a fortnight to go before the October 31 Brexit date.” link, paywalled)
Good – make the Remain Harlots work and earn their money, for once! There’s more:
“The Times has been told that Mr Johnson will table a single motion on Saturday combining both a vote on any deal he secures and the terms of the Benn act, which forces him to request a Brexit extension if a deal cannot be reached. “It’s decision time for MPs,” a government source said. “They can either back the deal or back a Brexit delay. It will be a binary choice.” (link, paywalled)
Well, that’s all conjecture until the fat lady has sung on Friday evening next week!Meanwhile, I expect Remainers as well as Spartans and the DUP to be in full force on tomorrow’s TV shows. So stock up on salt – we’ll need quite a bit when watching their stately pronouncements on our tellies tomorrow.
Of course, as always, we’ll stay vigilant, watch out for squirrels and