boris wants to reconquer ireland for the crown, as i predicted he would

Boris Johnson prepares to visit Berlin as minister struggles to defend his ‘collaboration’ jibe
Andrew Sparrow, Graunian, Aug 21 2019

On the subject of the backstop, Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America editor, has an imaginative solution.

Sopel is, of course, joking. But, according to the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn, Boris Johnson is considering a plan almost as improbable. Newton Dunn says the PM believes the backstop problem could be solved not by Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market, but by Ireland leaving it (temporarily). Perhaps this is a joke too, but these days it is getting hard to tell …

Norbert Röttgen, chair of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee and an Angela Merkel ally, has used Twitter this morning to restate his view (reported in our overnight story) that Boris Johnson would have been better off not writing the letter to Donald Tusk released on Monday.

Robert Jenrick, a former Treasury minister, was promoted to the cabinet as housing secretary after supporting Boris Johnson enthusiastically in the Tory leadership contest. But his performance on the Today programme this morning is getting some harsh reviews on Twitter.

Boris Johnson is making his first visit abroad as prime minister today when he visits Berlin for dinner with Angela Merkel. What could possibly go wrong? Well, he could start banging on about WW2. It would not be entirely out of character. During the EU referendum campaign three years ago Johnson provoked criticism by saying that the EU had the same goal as Hitler in wanting to create an European superstate, and only last month one of Johnson’s Tory Brexiter allies was complaining in the Commons about Germany being too powerful. In reality, it is hard to imagine Johnson being quite that crass. But the war still has a powerful grip on the British public imagination. It is hard to understand the Brexit vote without reference to WW2’s place in the national story. This surfaced again only last week, when Johnson claimed:

There is a terrible collaboration going on between people who think they can block Brexit in parliament and our European friends.

Readers from abroad may struggle to understand what the fuss was about, but in the UK, particularly for anyone over the age of 50, it is impossible to hear the word “collaborator” without associating it with supporting the Nazis. That explains why Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, had problems this morning when John Humprhys asked him on the Today programme if he supported Johnson’s use of the word last week. At first Jenrick tried to reframe the question, saying:

The point that the prime minister was making, which I 100% agree with …

Humphrys tried again. Did Jenrick agree with the use of the word collaboration? Jenrick replied:

I agree with the prime minister … It is not in the national interest, at this moment in time, to undermine the prime minister’s hand as we enter this period of negotiations.

Humphrys asked a third time if Jenrick viewed Tory MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit as collaborators. Jenrick replied:

What I’m saying is that all members of parliament, particularly Conservatives, need to support the prime minister to help us in these final preparations …

Humphrys pointed out that Jenrick was continuing to avoid the question. For a fourth time, he asked if Jenrick was supporting the PM. Jenrick replied:

I’m explaining the prime minister’s words, which I 100% support. I’ve always believed that you have to give the prime minister the strongest hand, he can have in these negotiations. And that means ensuring that we leave on 31 October. That is the only route to a real renegotiation in the weeks ahead.

So Jenrick claimed that he 100% supported Johnson’s language, even though he obviously didn’t, because he was not willing to use the word collaborator. What Jenrick did do was repeat the claim made by Johnson yesterday that Tory MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit were undermining the PM’s renegotiation. Johnson is due in Berlin at about 5pm UK time.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, told RTE’s Radio One this morning that a no-deal Brexit was becoming “far more likely”. He explained:

There is a consequence to the approach that the British government is taking and that consequence is that they are making a no-deal far more likely. There is a reason why Boris Johnson is visiting Berlin today and Paris tomorrow, to try to talk to EU leaders about finding a way forward. I think he will get a very consistent message from EU leaders that the negotiations over the last two to three years are not going to be abandoned now. We will try and find a way to give the reassurance and clarification that Boris Johnson needs to sell a deal. We will try and be imaginative about that and be helpful on that.

Coveney also insisted that Ireland would not abandon the backstop just on the basis of a “promise” from Johnson that the UK and the EU might find an alternative means of avoiding a hard border in the future. He said:

We are not going to abandon a solution that we know works for some kind of promise on the basis of trust that we will all work together to try and find a solution and muddle on in the future to solve the border. If we do that, what we will be doing is we will creating collateral damage in Ireland to solve a problem in Westminster and for the next number of years, the border issue will dominate Irish politics, north and south because we haven’t resolved it in the way we that know we can. We are not in the business of facilitating the UK effectively moving away from commitments they have made to Ireland and the EU to protect the Good Friday agreement, to protect an all island economy, and to replace that with some sort of makeshift deal in the weeks before a no-deal, that isn’t what we are going to do.

A former German ambassador to the UK, Thomas Matussek, told the Today programme this morning, that British ministers could be “in for a nasty surprise” if they think the EU will make Brexit concessions at the last minute. Asked about the possibility of the EU backing down, he said:

Well I think this time it might be wrong, because I think it’s important if you try to put yourself into the shoes of your partner, and the clear assessment of the interests of both sides indicates that there are certain issues on which the EU cannot budge, and these are the four freedoms. So I think they might be in for a nasty surprise. We cannot throw Ireland under the bus. What message would that send to other members of the EU family if we gave up that sort of loyalty and solidarity?

The EU27 are united over Brexit, the European commission said today. At its regular daily briefing, commenting on Boris Johnson’s meetings with Angela Merkel this evening and Emmanuel Macron tomorrow, the commission spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, said:

It’s normal that our member states meet and talk to one another. Beyond this, the EU27 have had from the outset, and continue to have now, one single, united position on Brexit matters.

Phil Hogan, the European commissioner for agriculture and an Irish politician from Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party, has launched what the Irish Independent (rightly) describes as a “scathing attack” on Johnson. He was speaking this morning at an event in Carlingford in Ireland. Hogan’s own account of his message on Twitter is bland and unexceptional.

But the Irish Independent’s Hugh O’Connell has filed a report based on a text of what Hogan was planning to say, and the quotes are very strong. Here are the main points. Hogan said that a no-deal Brexit would create a “foul atmosphere” between the UK and the EU. He said:

If the UK fails to prevent a crash-out Brexit they should be under no illusion regarding the foul atmosphere they will create with their EU partners and the serious consequences this will have for negotiating any future trade agreement.

He accused Johnson of “gambling with peace” in relation to Northern Ireland. He cited Churchill to explain why a no-deal Brexit would be do damaging. Hogan said:

The UK government needs to take responsibility for its choices before it is too late. PM Johnson’s hero is Winston Churchill and he seems to view himself as a modern day Churchill. However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK government’s only Churchilian legacy will be ‘never have so few done so much damage to so many.’

Hogan dismissed Johnson as an “unelected prime minister.” EU leaders have been angered by Johnson’s decision to describe the backstop as “undemocratic,” despite the fact that it was agreed by EU leaders and Theresa May, implementing a commitment made by the UK government in the joint report of Dec 2017 when Johnson was foreign secretary. Johnson explained his reason for using the term in his letter to Donald Tusk on Monday. Hogan said this was a “strange” decision coming from “an unelected prime minister.” Johnson became PM after 92,000 Tory members voted for him in a leadership contest, not after winning a general election. Hogan went on:

We should recall that the backstop was agreed by a prime minister who was democratically elected.

Hogan said the EU “will not buckle” in response to pressure from the UK. He said:

From the EU side, nothing has changed. We will hold the line. We have made detailed contingency plans for every outcome and we will not be found wanting. Contrary to what the UK government may wish, the EU will not buckle. Our response to PM Johnson’s letter is simple: We share his stated commitment to an orderly Brexit and to upholding the Good Friday agreement. We reiterate that the backstop is a necessary, legally operative solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland and we deeply regret that the new UK government wants to replace a legally operative solution with a commitment to try to find a solution yet to be found by the end of the transition period.

He accused Johnson of putting “the best interests of the Tory Party ahead of the best interests of the UK.” He said, three years after the vote to leave the EU, Brussels still did not know what kind of Brexit Britain wanted. He said:

More than three years on from the referendum, we still have no clear idea about what kind of Brexit the UK wants. And the UK is running out of time to make up its mind.

Reuters has some more news alerts from the French government briefing also attended by Bloomberg.

French official: EU position on Brexit won’t change even in case of pressure from Trump. Even in case of no-deal, EU will consider Brexit bill to be due. EU would probably accept to grant Britain a delay on Brexit to hold new elections. Britain should have no doubt France, Germany and other EU countries are totally united.

Johnson is meeting Macron tomorrow, and this briefing will ratchet up the tension in advance. The point about the Brexit bill is particularly important. Johnson has repeatedly said that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government will have available an extra £39b, the Brexit bill payable to the EU, even though his own attorney general Geoffrey Cox has said that this is not true. France believes a no deal exit is now the “most likely” Brexit scenario after Johnson demanded the EU reopen the withdrawal agreement and drop the Irish backstop. A French official said:

If the UK considers that having a backstop is absolutely excluded, that is its right, but in that case it limits the possibility of reaching an agreement. The idea of saying ‘there’s not a deal, so I won’t pay’ does not work. We cannot imagine that a country like the UK would back out of an international commitment.

Merkel suggests changes to political declaration could provide solutions to backstop problem. Doesn’t the basic problem remain: the EU will not change its position, and the UK won’t either? Merkel says that question cannot be answered today. She says she sees “possibilities” through changes to the political declaration. Johnson says he will be discussing alternatives to the backstop with Merkel. He refers to the “excellent” Alternative Arrangements Commission report which sets some of these out. Johnson says under no circumstances will the UK impose checks at the border in Ireland. The government thinks it can manage the border without checks, he says. He says he is not attracted to having a time limit on the backstop. There are other flaws with it, he says. He says the alternatives to the backstop have not been actively proposed over the last three years by the British government. Merkel says the commission is negotiation on behalf of the EU 27. The EU 27 want to have a uniform, consistent position, she says. She says the UK also needs to say what its ideas are. She says it is not her job as German chancellor to understand all the issues relating to the Northern Ireland/Ireland border. So it is up to the UK to suggest ideas, she says. She says she wants to protect the integrity of the single market. Merkel says she follows the debate in the UK. She knows the problem. But the backstop is there to solve a problem, she says. She suggests that if another solution to the border problem could be found, she would be amenable. But she suggests it would have to be workable. They have a lot to discuss tonight, she says. Johnson says he thinks there is “ample scope” to do a deal. He says the backstop “plainly has to go.” But if we can get rid of it, we can make progress very quickly indeed, he says. Johnson says he has watched a lot of EU negotiations. What seems impossible at first, when irresistible force meets immoveable object, turns out to be possible right at the end. He says the solutions often coming in the final furlong, when the horses change places. In response to a question on Russia, he says he has yet to be convinced that it is right for Russia to rejoin G7. He says this is one area where the UK and Germany agree. And that’s it. Merkel says they have to get off to work.

Boris Johnson will be pleased with that. Angela Merkel has always been one of the EU leaders most solicitous towards the UK in the Brexit process, and this afternoon there was a very stark contrast between her tone and that adopted, for example, by the Irish European commissioner Phil Hogan or the unnamed French government official briefing the media. She did not use any language critical of Johnson at all, and she stressed that she remained open to any solution that might provide a workable alternative to the backstop. At one point she talked about how it might be possible to find a solution within the next 30 days and Johnson, whose entire professional training revolved around quickly spotting a headline buried in Eurobabble, immediately flagged this up to journalists, implying this was his “win” from the press conference:

Merkel gives UK 30 days to solve Brexit.

Whether this is anything more than cosmetic remains to be seen. It may count for very little. Merkel’s tone was helpful, but on substance she gave nothing away at all. The fundamental problems are just the same as they have always been. There is nothing in the Alternative Arrangements Commission report cited by Johnson that has not already been closely studied by Brussels and rejected as an inadequate alternative to the backstop, and both parties are under pressure to appear reasonable because they do not want to take the blame for the inevitable voter backlash that would follow a no-deal Brexit. Theresa May’s first press conference with Donald Trump was deemed a success. But that turned out to be a very poor guide to how their relationship eventually developed.

Merkel gives Johnson 30 days to find solution to avoid no-deal Brexit
Philip Oltermann, Groon, Aug 21 2019

Angela Merkel has challenged Boris Johnson to come up with a solution to avert a no-deal Brexit “in the next 30 days,” putting responsibility for stopping the UK crashing out of the EU firmly at the British prime minister’s door. After weeks of diplomatic tension, the German chancellor used her first face-to-face meeting with her UK counterpart on Wednesday to signal cautious optimism that a deal could be struck, suggesting more than once that changes to the political declaration could yet provide a way forward. She said:

If a solution to the impasse over the Irish border can be found, then the backstop is a placeholder that will no longer be necessary. Such a solution could take years, but maybe we can find that solution in the next 30 days.

Johnson said he was “glad” to hear her set such a “blistering timetable,” adding:

Wir schaffen das.

This is the same phrase meaning “we will manage” that Merkel famously used to sound determined in the middle of the 2015 refugee crisis. Both leaders agreed the onus was on the UK to come up with a way to square Britain’s desire to leave the EU with the need to avert a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as set out in the Good Friday agreement. Merkel reiterated that Germany accepted Britain’s decision to depart from the bloc of nations as “a fact,” and said:

While Germany hopes for a negotiated exit, we are also prepared for the eventuality that there won’t be such a negotiated exit.

She specifical drew attention to the consequences this could have for British citizens across the EU. Reiterating the content of the letter he sent to EC president Donald Tusk on Monday, Johnson said:

We cannot accept the current withdrawal agreement.

However, he said his government was “absolutely dedicated” to honour the rights of EU citizens in Britain and that his government would “under no circumstances” introduce checks on the Irish border. Asked if a time limit to the backstop could point the way to a compromise between the negotiating side, Johnson said:

There are other flaws to the backstop.

Speaking after a meeting with the Slovakian president, Zuzana Čaputová, in Berlin, the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, earlier in the day voiced pessimism about the chances of constructive talks with the new British prime minister. Regarding the backstop, Steinmeier said:

All variations that could now be put on the table have already been discussed. I therefore think it unlikely that negotiations will get off the ground.

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