Wednesday 16 October 2019

John Downing: 'Penny is starting to drop as assurances are lined up to persuade ardent Brexiteers to make compromise'

  

Negotiating team: UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is back in Brussels for further talks with the EU today. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Negotiating team: UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is back in Brussels for further talks with the EU today. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

Time is becoming increasingly scarce. This day next week there is another decisive vote on Brexit in the British parliament and, as of today, B-day is just 24 days away.

Yet, we still do not know where this is going to land - beyond the clear assurance that we are facing more delays, at least until late June but possibly until much later.

It is clear that the EU negotiators are ready to give more assurances to the UK about the duration of the Irish Border backstop. There are various well-tried devices available to give those assurances a certain legal gloss.

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The key question is whether such assurances can buy off Conservative MPs who are ardent supporters of Brexit, and the Democratic Unionist Party determined that Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as England, Scotland and Wales.

There is a lot of hugger mugger about renewed talks today in Brussels, which will involve the EU side and the British Brexit minister, Stephen Barclay, and the UK attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.

Prime Minister Theresa May's top lawyer will try to clinch a Brexit compromise with the European Union this week in a last-ditch bid to win over rebellious British lawmakers before crunch votes that could delay the divorce.

Let's recall that on January 15, Theresa May's draft EU-UK divorce deal was beaten by an all-time record vote of 432 against to 202 in favour.

But still Mrs May hopes to win over enough MPs to reverse that outcome of almost two months ago.

Things still turn around a legal addendum to the draft deal's most controversial element: a "backstop" to ensure no hard Border after Brexit.

UK attorney general Mr Cox continues to pursue legally binding changes to the backstop deemed necessary to ensure the EU cannot keep the UK as semi-EU members indefinitely.

Many British MPs oppose the backstop because it requires Britain to apply some EU rules in Northern Ireland indefinitely, unless another plan for keeping the Border open can be agreed in future.

Mrs May has promised to seek changes, although the EU has refused to reopen the draft treaty itself. So, any assurances must come in an accompanying declaration.

If MPs again reject the tweaked deal next Tuesday, there will be a vote on whether to leave without a deal, and then another vote on whether to delay Brexit, probably by a few months until the end of June.

In a bid to win over opposition Labour Party MPs, Mrs May has unveiled plans for a £1.6bn (€1.9bn) fund to help to boost economic growth in Brexit-supporting communities. The Labour Party's finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said the fund was "Brexit bribery".

But all eyes remain focused on Conservative Party ardent Brexiteers and how much they are prepared to compromise.

Irish Independent

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