Sunday 17 November 2019

Boris inches closer to a deal but EU fears Brit MPs could scupper it

Boris Johnson has made concession to get a deal
Boris Johnson has made concession to get a deal

European ministers fear Boris Johnson will struggle to get a new Brexit deal past British MPs after he ceded yet more ground to the EU.

A compromise on the backstop was "within grasp" late last night as both sides moved towards agreeing a protocol for a border in the Irish Sea.

However, a number of EU foreign ministers have raised concerns about how the detail will be received in London.

At a meeting in Luxembourg, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier is understood to have told representatives that his job is to negotiate with the UK government, not the Parliament.

Theresa May failed to get her Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, through the House of Commons on three occasions before her premiership was toppled.

The leader of a pro-Brexit faction within the Conservative Party said he was optimistic.

Steve Baker - the head of the European Research Group, which wants a cleaner break with Brussels - told reporters after a meeting in Mr Johnson's office that he was very pleased.

"I am optimistic that it is still possible we could reach a tolerable deal and I will be voting for it," he said.

There is growing anticipation in Dublin and Brussels that a deal can be secured after the British side agreed to further compromises on the issues of consent and customs. Both sides have agreed that parties in Northern Ireland must have a say over a 'special relationship' between the region and the EU.

This could involve a vote every four to six years - but safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the DUP cannot have a veto.

"This should deal with claims of a democratic deficit around the backstop," said a source.


Resolving issues around customs has proven more difficult.

The UK has resisted the suggestion that a fully fledged border down the Irish Sea is the most practical way of breaking the deadlock.

Yet EU sources said there has been a "further shift" in the UK position back towards a Northern Ireland-only backstop since Mr Johnson met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week.

Underpinning this with legal text remained a stumbling block as work continued last night.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was cautious about how her party will react to concessions.

She said any deal must respect the constitutional and economic place of Northern Ireland within the UK.

"When I hear talk of a Northern Ireland backstop, I think things are very far off the mark," she said.

The prime minister will update his cabinet this morning, while Mr Barnier will brief EU ambassadors in Brussels.

Sterling surged to its highest level against the dollar and the euro since May on rising hopes for a deal - but the clock is ticking.

If a treaty is to be approved by EU leaders tomorrow and Friday then the full detail must be released to capitals today.

Mr Johnson will be hoping to argue for a deal at the weekend, as the House of Commons has its first Saturday sitting in 37 years. However, if a deal hasn't been secured in time then attention will turn to the Benn Act, which legally requires Mr Johnson to seek a delay beyond October 31.

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