Tuesday 22 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'We have run out of time and into a brick wall, so it's extension or bust'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

If this is a moment of truth then perhaps it's better to cut straight to the point: There is not going to be a Brexit deal on October 31.

Since Boris Johnson's takeover of Downing Street in the quiet summer days of July it has been impossible to predict how negotiations would play out.

There has been extraordinary noise out of London for the past two months, but one thing now appears clear. We have run out of time and into a brick wall.

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Even if Johnson was to miraculously table workable alternatives to the backstop in the coming hours, the EU would struggle to turn them into legal text before Halloween.

None of the key players in Brussels are willing to publicly admit the gig is up, but conversations are already shifting towards the type of extension that will be granted.

READ MORE: Editorial: 'No glory in being champion of a game with no winners'

The submission of four 'non-papers' summarising the UK's thinking over the past fortnight was a sign of things to come for the EU. The papers relating to agri-food (SPS) rules, manufacturing standards and two on customs amounted to just a few A4 pages each.

One theory under consideration was that Johnson and his Brexiteer cabinet were merely engaging in some gas-lighting ahead of the final showdown.

The paper which suggested customs zones on both sides of the Irish border with a 'no man's land' in between was metaphorically shredded as soon as it landed.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson's final Brexit gambit: UK to offer double border for four years to abolish backstop

Little was expected from the British government's final roll of the dice, which we now know involves two borders and a time-limit. This started out as an effort to ensure no borders forever.

The EU will be seen to actively engage with what has been put forward.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to talk with Johnson at some stage - but plans for another face-to-face meeting now seem pointless. Instead, he will prioritise shoring up solidarity with EU leaders on visits to Sweden and Denmark later this week.

Boris Johnson meets Leo Varadkar. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

The sad reality is that it's too late to rescue the situation.

A lot of scenarios have been discussed in the EU's corridors of power, including the idea of a short 'technical extension'.

However, no matter how many times Johnson suggests it, there will not be a deal hammered out at the summit of leaders on October 17.

READ MORE: EU chiefs consider six-month Brexit delay as Boris Johnson's plans expected to fall flat

Prime ministers do not want to be sitting in a room in Brussels at 3am discussing how to control pigs coming off a ferry in Larne.

What they might do at that hour though is agree to put the whole thing on hold again.

Several leaders, including France's Emmanuel Macron, are likely to object but ultimately if the UK is going to have an election then they will give in.

Ireland will strongly agree that another extension is better than no deal, even if it prolongs the uncertainty.

But then there is the possibility that Johnson will refuse the terms of an extension and say he was forced to leave without a deal.

READ MORE: Colette Browne: 'Boris Johnson has shown his contempt for Ireland with a DMZ straight out of North Korea's playbook'

Irish Independent

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