The main Brexit action was in Brussels this morning, where EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered a landmark speech. But the focus also switched to the USA, as UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab hit Washington DC for key meetings.
The Commission President – increasingly known as by her initials, VDL, in Brussels – delivered her first landmark “state of the union” speech since she took office nine months ago.
She delivered a blunt warning to Boris Johnson on his moves to break an international treaty by changing the agreed EU-UK special trade status of Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Ms von der Leyen recalled one of Mr Johnson’s predecessors, Maggie Thatcher. The one-time Tory idol had some epic clashes with Brussels – but always insisted a deal was a deal.
The EC president quoted Mrs Thatcher. “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade,” she recalled Mrs Thatcher as saying.
Ms von der Leyen said the deal on the North was the best way of ensuring continued peace in Ireland. And there would be no going back on that deal, she added. She also warned Mr Johnson that time was running out to agree a post-Brexit EU-UK free trade deal before the end-of-year deadline.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was this afternoon due to update the 27 EU member state ambassadors in Brussels on the trade talks.
UK foreign minister Dominic Raab is in the American capital for talks with key political leaders. US President Donald Trump has made very positive noises about a good US-UK trade deal to help Britain cope with the aftermath of Brexit.
But other key US politicians are keen to point out that granting such a trade deal is not in the gift of the President. Already, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi – who does have a key role in signing off trade deals – has publicly warned the UK that their latest move on Northern Ireland rules out any future trade deal.
Mr Raab will hear that first hand in a meeting with Ms Pelosi and other key American political leaders.
One Brussels diplomats said: “Britain will be reminded that the Irish have some political clout in the US capital.”
The UK government’s best-known “foot-in-the-mouth man”, the Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis, was unrepentant about his admission last week that his government were going to break the EU treaty. Mr Lewis had said the international breach would only be in a very “specific and limited way”.
Today he told a UK parliament committee that he stood by what he had said and held out the hope that Brexit negotiation problems – vastly worsened by that international law breach – could be overcome.
Ere the ink wherewith 'twas writ could dry. Like my classmates, all of us barely 10 years old, I committed that strange phrase to memory without much understanding of its meaning. Many decades later it stays lodged in the back of the head along with chunks of the Memorare, the words of Tantum Ergo, and strange mathematical formulae as Gaeilge.