evening standard version

Boris Johnson under pressure over ‘do or die’ Brexit vow
Joe Murphy, Nicholas Cecil, Evening Standard, Oct 14 2019

Boris Johnson came under pressure today to abandon his “do or die” Brexit deadline of Oct 31 as EU leaders and Tory rebels warned that a delay may be needed to allow more time for a deal to go through. With three days left until a vital EU summit, the PM also found himself boxed in by his DUP allies, who warned “we will not be eating our own words” regarding a mooted deal creating a customs border between NI and the UK mainland. Official talks restarted in Brussels this morning on technical details of a potential deal that is still shrouded in secrecy, but which MPs believe involves a new customs partnership for NI. At the state opening of Parliament, the Queen’s speech stopped short of repeating Mr Johnson’s cast-iron vow to leave the bloc on Hallowe’en, saying only:

My Government’s priority has always been to secure the UK’s departure from the EU on Oct 31.

A No 10 source said the difference in language merely reflected “the way the Queen speaks on such matters” and did not signal any change in policy, but Mr Johnson was under pressure from all sides to make concessions if he was to meet his deadline. The cross-party group of rebel MPs that passed the Benn Act to prevent a no-deal Brexit signalled they are ready to force a delay beyond Oct 31 to allow more scrutiny of the deal. Former Tory minister Nicholas Boles said there was “every chance” that the legislation needed would not get through Parliament by the deadline. DUP Brexit spox Sammy Wilson, when asked about Jacob Rees-Mogg saying is willing to “eat his own words” and back a customs plan he once branded “completely cretinous,” responded:

Whatever appetite he has for his own words or whatever, we will not be eating our own words. Our position is clear, the Government knows what our position is and we will not be dining from a different menu.

Writing in today’s Evening Standard, former justice secretary David Gauke said:

Parliament will not simply nod through a Brexit that comes at an unnecessarily high economic price.

He calculated that the loss of trade if the UK sacrifices free trade with the EU would amount to £2,250 per person. Negotiators in Brussels were believed to be poring over a proposed customs arrangement that would see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK, with the UK authorities collecting EU tariffs on goods entering the province. It was understood to have been offered by Mr Johnson in his private talks with Irish leader Leo Varadkar on Thursday. Mr Johnson is also thought to have offered an assurance that no community in the province would have a veto, a concession he signalled in an interview with the Standard last week. Arriving for a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Mr Coveney said:

The less we say now, the better… A deal is possible, and it is possible this month, maybe possible this week, but we are not there yet.

Observers noted that his words kept open the possible need for a delay beyond this week’s EU summit of leaders and the Oct 31 deadline. Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald spoke to the PM about the veto idea by telephone on Sunday, and told BBC Radio 4 Today:

He assured me, or sought to assure me, that there would be no vetoes afforded to anybody in this process.

Mr Boles, who is now an Independent Conservative, told the Standard that rebel MPs would not reveal their hand but added:

MPs will want to scrutinise the legislation that implements our withdrawal very closely and ensure that an extension is secured if there is any chance that this legislation will not have completed its passage before Oct 31.

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