I was going to take a break today, to take the day off and let the Brexit Mess simmer until tomorrow – honest, guv, I was! – but I cannot.

In contrast to the last couple of weekends where nothing at all happened except Ministers and MPs preaching to us about Brexit either in print or on the Sunday Telly chat shows, there’s something cooking which you ought to know about. It’s about the backstop, and the relevant articles are in the paywalled broadsheets (Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times) so I’ll quote at length because they provide the important backdrop for what will happen in the coming week.

First up is M Barnier. The DT quotes from an interview M Barnier gave to ‘a Spanish paper’:

“A delay to Brexit is now unavoidable, even if MPs sign off a deal next week, the European Commission has suggested. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, indicated that a “technical” extension would be needed to implement a deal. His deputy, Sabine Weyand, later “liked” a tweet summarising his comments, in English, as “extension now inavoidable [sic] – will be granted”. Mr Barnier’s comments confirm the private view of a significant number of the Cabinet that a limited delay is now inevitable, after Theresa May agreed to put the option to MPs if she fails to win a majority for her deal by March 12.” (paywalled link)

M Barnier, who doesn’t seem to talk to UK papers, gave a slightly different interpretation on that dratted extension to a German paper – I reported on that yesterday, hereMore important though is M Barnier’s remark on the backstop:

“Mr Barnier also indicated that the Commission is preparing to offer the UK a separate legal document that would reiterate a stipulation that the EU would use “best endeavours” to ensure the UK is not trapped in the “backstop” – the controversial insurance plan for the Irish border.” (paywalled link, my bold)

This is what the EU will offer the Attorney General – and this is where the Remain spin in the paper for RemainCentral, The Times, went into overdrive today. The unfortunate title of this article says it all: “Tory Brexiteers offer peace terms to Theresa May” … is that meant to refer to ‘Peace in our times’? Quoting at length from that paywalled article:

“Tory Brexiteers have delivered peace terms to Theresa May, outlining the price she must pay to secure their support for her Brexit deal in the crunch Commons showdown within days. The European Research Group (ERG) of hardliners, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, have drawn up “three tests” the government must meet if the prime minister hopes to win the vote due as early as this week. In a significant intervention, eight ERG lawyers, chaired by veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash, have drawn up a document spelling out their demands, the clearest sign yet that they are prepared to fall into line.

Well, it’s seven ERG MPs and two non-MP lawyers but that’s a petitesse The Times can overlook … Next ( from the same paywalled article):

Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, is seeking a new deal that would make clear that the Northern Ireland backstop, which locks the UK into a customs union with the EU, is only temporary. In private talks with Cox the Brexiteers demanded a legally binding “mechanism” to escape the backstop, with a clear “exit route” and an unambiguous rewrite of the “language” in the government’s legal advice. […] The plan has been drawn up in conjunction with Nigel Dodds, the Westminster leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). If May can secure the backing of the DUP and ERG, the deal will go through.” 

A separate Opinion Piece in the Sunday Times (here) is titled Is this the start of the great Brexit climbdown?” and opens with “Tory Brexiteers have set up a ‘star chamber’ to rule on any EU move on the backstop”.

In their frenzy to get BRINO or an extension plus 2nd Referendum, the Remainers don’t seem to understand that proper scrutiny of the Government  – which is what our MPs have actually been elected for – is not a ‘peace offering’ nor a climb-down. One of the members of this scrutiny Committee, Michael Tomlinson MP, was interviewed for this article, and he makes clear what the objectives are:

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Tomlinson revealed the three tests the Cash committee will use to judge whether Cox has obtained a good-enough deal, after parliament rejected the original plan by 230 votes.

  • The mechanism has got to be legally binding, so effectively treaty-level change,” he said. “The vote in the House of Commons was very clear. It was an expression of unhappiness from across the House about the backstop.
  • The second part is the language. It can’t be a reinterpretation of the withdrawal agreement or a re-emphasis; it’s got to be really clear language as to where we are going.

“In the advice that the attorney- general sent to the prime minister, which was subsequently published under duress, his concern was that the backstop could ‘endure indefinitely’. That set alarm bells ringing. There has to be clear language in what the attorney-general comes back with, and that, in his legal opinion, ‘endure indefinitely’ has been taken out.

  • The third requirement is a clear exit route.”

Interestingly, ERG sources acknowledge that the three tests have been drawn quite broadly and do not seek to be prescriptive about the mechanisms Cox uses to get a legally binding change. This is a change of approach from the days when Eurosceptics ruled out legal codicils or letters of clarification.” (paywalled link)

Why this constitutes a ‘climb-down’ or ‘peace offering’ must remain the secret of the Remain Times journalists, as must the question why this scrutiny is in any way reprehensible. There’s more:

“Tomlinson explained: “There is a spectrum and a range of options that the attorney-general has, but I’m not going to say protocol, good; codicil, bad; letter, very bad; because that would be prejudging it. We are waiting to be convinced.” (paywalled link)

Perfectly proper, methinks … Of course, the ‘other side’, the Remainers, have to be heard as well:

“Downing Street fears there are still some Tory MPs who will never accept the deal. One insider described the ultras as a “death cult” that has been growing around the ERG deputy leader, Steve Baker, who has privately dubbed the attorney-general’s plan “Cox’s codpiece.”(paywalled link)

Funny, isn’t it, how only the Remainers are using extreme, vituperative language to describe Brexiteers, even those from their own Party. It’s also interesting to note that RemainCentral journalists seem to believe it’s the ERG which is negotiating with Barnier:

The ERG’s demands might still be too much for the EU to contemplate. Cox initially told MPs he hoped the EU would agree to reopen the withdrawal agreement or concede a unilateral exit mechanism, but both seem to be off the table. Last week the attorney-general told a friend he was much less optimistic, admitting the negotiations are “extraordinarily difficult”. (paywalled link)

I bet they are! How can one negotiate with someone who keeps saying “Non”? Perhaps Mr Geoffrey Cox can use his booming, mellifluous voice to boom M Barnier into submission …

As the coming week will be  … interesting, I hope that you, like me, will keep on channeling your inner Churchill: KBO!


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