bye, bye, brexit … (DUP will sink it)

DUP says it won’t vote for deal because it ‘drives coach and horses’ through GFA
Andrew Sparrow, Groon, Oct 17 2019

Here is the key extract from the DUP’s statement:

These arrangements will become the settled position in these areas for Northern Ireland. This drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast agreement. For all of these reasons it is our view that these arrangements would not be in Northern Ireland’s long term interests. Saturday’s vote in parliament on the proposals will only be the start of a long process to get any withdrawal agreement bill through the House of Commons.

Has the DUP been abandoned by No 10?
Lisa O’Carroll, Graun, Oct 17 2019

A view in Northern Ireland is that the DUP have been totally shafted, “run over by a convoy of juggernauts,” and for once lost out in their hallmark brinkmanship. This could rise to further tensions in the region, making it vital that there is “no crowing in Dublin,” one source said. The DUP, who had been the lynchpin in Theresa May’s government have seen their powerful position rubbed out this morning in Brussels and some in Northern Ireland are saying they believe that this was Boris Johnson’s calculation all along: get a deal and have a general election, whether he gets it through parliament or not. The source said:

This has not gone well for the DUP, and it is going to create huge tensions on the Unionist side. Northern Ireland continues to be collateral damage in Brexit.

Some believe that the DUP’s statement this morning was about forcing further concessions from Boris Johnson, but the moment the deal was done the door was closed in their face. That said, it may well be that Johnson lavishes the DUP/Northern Ireland with a jacuzzi of cash in the next two days to bring them back on board. The Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith was in Derry recently to discuss the establishment of a new medical school, and there has been repeated talk of money for a motorway from Derry to Belfast. But sources say “this is of no interest to the DUP because that is Sinn Fein territory.” So, if the DUP have been sold a dummy pass, how did that happen? Could Dominic Cummings have come up with a cunning plan to persuade them to drop regulatory alignment in exchange for a veto on the deal, a veto that he knew would never get through? That is a question yet to be answered. Others point out that the DUP took a huge step agreeing to yield on regulatory alignment with the EU and this was not matched by the EU/Dublin. They felt that this was not recognised by Dublin and they were “very annoyed” when Leo Varadkar made an off the cuff remark in Sweden days later that the British public actually wanted to stay in the EU but it was politically impossible.

Northern Irish DUP says no to PM Johnson’s Brexit deal
Reuters, Oct 17 2019

DUBLIN – Northern Ireland’s DUP said on Thursday its position on Brexit had not changed and it could not support the deal being proposed by Boris Johnson and the EU. A spokesman told Reuters the party’s earlier opposition still stood after Johnson and Juncker said a new deal had been agreed which PM Johnson urged MPs in London to approve at the weekend.

Brexit deal clinched in Brussels, Johnson still needs backing at home
Reuters, Oct 17 2019

BRUSSELS – Britain clinched a Brexit deal with the EU on Thursday, Juncker said, just a few hours before the start of a summit of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels. Separately, Johnson said “we have a great new Brexit deal.” Juncker said in a letter that he would recommend that the leaders of the other 27 member states approve the deal, adding it was “high time” to complete the divorce process and move on as swiftly as possible to negotiations of the EU’s future partnership with Britain. However, the DUP has refused to support the deal that was hammered out over weeks of negotiations. Johnson is hoping to get approval for the agreement in a vote at an extraordinary session of the British parliament on Saturday, to pave the way for an orderly departure on Oct 31. Sterling surged more than 1% and British share prices rallied after the announcement that an agreement had been reached.

Boris Johnson agrees Brexit deal with EU
Jon Stone, Independent, Oct 17 2019

Boris Johnson has agreed a new Brexit deal with the EU, both sides of talks have confirmed. Negotiators in Brussels struck the deal on Thursday morning, but questions remain about whether it can gain enough support back in Westminster. Juncker said in a statement on Thursday morning:

Where there is a will, there is a deal! We have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that European Council endorses this deal.”

In his own statement Mr Johnson said:

We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control. Now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment.

But the agreement is understood to not have the support of DUP memebers of parliament, whose votes in parliament are crucial to pass it. a DUP source said:

Read our statement. It hasn’t changed.

It comes ahead of a summit in Brussels where EU leaders will meet to discuss the agreement and consider whether an extension to Article 50 is required. Speaking at a press conference in the European Commission over the road from the summit’s venue, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters:

This is the result of intensive work on the part of the two negotiating teams. A point extremely important to PM Johnson and the UK was that Northern Ireland remains in the UK’s customs territory. Discussions in the past few days have at times been difficult, but we have delivered, and we have delivered together.

Under the agreement, Mr Barnier said, Northern Ireland will stay inside the UK customs territory, but UK authorities will have to collect EU tariffs for goods that are at risk of entering the single market. He added that the arrangement would allow North Ireland to “benefit from the UK’s future trade policy,” a key demand of Brexiteers. The Northern Ireland Assembly has also been given a veto on the plans, though not to the extent demanded by the DUP. Barnier explained:

Four years after the entry into force of the protocol the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will be able to decide by simple majority whether to continue to apply union rules in Northern Ireland or not. This democratic support is a cornerstone of our newly agreed approach.

Notably, the agreement is no longer a “backstop,” but instead intended as the basis for a permanent agreement between the UK and EU. Boris Johnson’s plans to scrap commitments to a “level playing field” that would protect environmental, social and labour rights and keep them at the same level as the EU did not come to fruition, with the clauses remaining in the agreement.

Brexit up in the air at EU summit as DUP refuses to back draft
Elizabeth Piper, Philip Blenkinsop, Reuters, Oct 17 2019

BRUSSELS – Johnson’s last-ditch attempt to clinch a Brexit deal was thrown into disarray hours before a EU summit on Thursday when the DUP refused to support it. Johnson had set his hopes on convincing EU leaders to seal a divorce agreement at the summit, followed by a vote at an extraordinary session of the British parliament on Saturday, to pave the way for an orderly departure on Oct 31. Negotiators worked through several nights to agree a draft compromise on the Irish border issue, the most difficult part of Brexit, haggling over everything from customs checks to the thorny issue of consent from the Northern Irish administration, but the DUP said the text was not acceptable. This is a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his own Conservative party also to oppose ratification unless he secures additional changes. DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said in a statement:

As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT. We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK.

The European Commission said it wanted a deal. Merkel said one was still possible. Merkel said more work was needed on Northern Ireland customs and that if necessary EU leaders could meet again to discuss Brexit. Two weeks before the latest date for the UK’s departure from the world’s largest trading bloc, the possible outcomes still range from an orderly departure to a chaotic exit, or even another referendum that could reverse the entire endeavour. It is unclear what Brexit will ultimately mean for the UK and the European project, built on the ruins of WW2 as a way to integrate economic power and thus end centuries of European bloodshed. Johnson, who was the face of the campaign to leave the EU in Britain’s 2016 referendum, has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay, even though parliament has passed a law to oblige him to do just that if it has not agreed and ratified a deal by Saturday. Johnson has no majority in the 650-seat parliament, and in practice needs 320 votes to get a deal ratified this Saturday, in what will be the first Saturday session since the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982. The DUP have 10 votes. To further complicate matters, Johnson wants to call a snap election, but needs opposition backing to do so.

Officials in Brussels said almost all the differences between the world’s fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading bloc had been resolved after marathon talks that extended into the early hours of Thursday. A UK government source said the system of levying VAT remained an outstanding issue. EU leaders will need to see the text of any agreement to allow them to give some form of approval. But the British parliament, which defeated similar deals struck by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May three times, may present an even higher hurdle. Johnson won the top job by pledging to renegotiate May’s agreement, though he is reviving the bulk of it now, with changes to the protocol on how to treat the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU’s single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the province. The DUP fear that the EU’s proposals would divide the UK and trap Northern Ireland in the bloc’s orbit for years to come. Johnson had assured the EU that, despite May’s three defeats, he could get a deal approved in the British parliament. Juncker spoke to Johnson ahead of the summit. “We want a deal,” the Commission’s chief spox said. Merkel told the Bundestag:

There has been movement in recent days, significant movement, so we are on a better path than before. I cannot say today how the European Council will end tomorrow. But I can say that we will not allow hatred and violence to flare up on the island of Ireland again.

The pound vs the US dollar. Photo: Refinitiv

The pound has just surged through $1.29 against the dollar, hitting a new five-month high. Shares in UK housebuilders and banks are also rallying, as investors welcome the news that a Brexit deal has been agreed.

EU says leaders will not negotiate with Boris Johnson at summit
Jon Stone, Independent, Oct 17 2019

EU leaders are refusing to negotiate face-to-face with Boris Johnson at today’s summit in Brussels, dashing hopes that a Brexit deal could be struck at the meeting. A senior EU official said ahead of the gathering of leaders that Mr Johnson would be allowed to address his fellow leaders if he chose, but that the 27 presidents and prime ministers would then continue without him for the main discussion. The senior official said:

Brexit negotiations at 28 (leaders) are not foreseen in the treaty, so we will stick with this treaty reality. I believe that by now it is obvious for everyone that Brexit negotiations take place not during the summit. On the other side of the street, we have our negotiator and everyone trusts him and we are happy with his performance. The meeting will be in Article 50 format. This is the format for 27 members only. PM Johnson will have a chance to address the 27. Of course it will be for him to decide if it is a good idea or not, whether he wants to address the leaders or not, but the possibility will be there.

Pound volatile as DUP rejects deal ‘as it stands’
Graeme Wearden, Groan, Oct 17 2019

Brexit uncertainty has sent the pound lurching around this morning. Sterling tumbled back from last night’s five-month high, after the DUP rejected the deal being drawn up between Boris Johnson and the EU. DUP support is crucial to Johnson’s hopes of persuading parliament to back his revised deal, but they’re unhappy about the proposed customs checks at the Irish Sea, the way VAT would be handled across the border after Brexit, and Northern Ireland’s ability to consent to the arrangements.

This wiped a cent of the pound in early London trading, but it’s creeping back towards $1.28, and still up around six cents in a week.

The pound vs the dollar today Photo: Refinitiv

DUP says it cannot support BoJo’s Brexit
Matthew Weaver, Groan, Oct 17 2019

The DUP is threatening to scupper the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson is on the cusp of agreeing with the EU. On the morning of a crucial EU summit in Brussels, a joint statement from the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, explicitly says the party cannot support the deal that is close to being finalised. The pound fell 0.5% against the dollar and the euro within minutes of the announcement. The DUP statement said:

As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.

The statement will come as blow to the PM, who hopes to bring back a deal from the Brussels meeting and then secure the backing of parliament in a rare Commons vote pencilled in for Saturday. The backing of the 10 DUP MPs is crucial for the success of that vote because many Conservative Brexiters have indicated they will not back a deal that is opposed by Unionists. Steve Baker, the chair of the hard Brexit ERG, said he was optimistic the group would back a deal. But he also suggested the ERG could not support it if Johnson failed to secure the backing of the DUP. The DUP statement added:

We will continue to work with the government to try and get a sensible deal that works for NI and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK.

Johnson has met Foster and Dodds three times in the last three days as he tried to shore up their support before Saturday’s deadline to prevent a delay to Brexit. Housing minister Robert Jenrick said on BBC Breakfast:

We know there are clearly concerns on the part of the DUP and we want to try and work through these productively in the hours to come. All sides in this do want to secure an orderly exit from the EU, and I think one is in sight, although there is clearly very significant issues to be hammered out. Let’s wait and see.

He said he expected Johnson to go to Brussels to meet with members of the European Council. Under the so-called Benn act, if Johnson cannot get a deal passed by Saturday he will be forced to seek an extension to the Oct 31 deadline for the UK to leave the EU. The DUP is digging in over the prospect of a customs border between NI and the rest of the UK, as well as the issues of consent regarding the suspended Stormont assembly. Another significant issue in Johnson’s proposals are whether EU VAT rates would apply in Northern Ireland. Amid fears that there is not enough time for a legal text to be hammered out, a compromise could prompt EU leaders to back a political agreement and schedule a second summit. Johnson told the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers a day before the summit that his situation was like climbing Mount Everest, according to MPs in attendance. Mark Francois, a prominent Brexiter, reported Johnson as claiming with characteristic verbosity:

We are not quite at the Summit. We are at the Hillary Step. The Summit is still shrouded in mist.

The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, has confirmed that the PM will write a letter asking for an Article 50 extension if no deal is in place by Saturday. This is despite Johnson repeatedly ruling out asking for a further delay under his “do or die” commitment to leave the EU by the current Halloween deadline.

No Brexit deal reached as EU summit begins
Chris Marsden, WSWS, Oct 17 2019

In the end, yesterday finished with statements by a Johnson spox saying that no Brexit deal would be reached, as negotiations with the DUP and technical talks with the EU were ongoing. Earlier there had been positive noises from the EU, suggesting that the basis of a deal on Britain’s leaving was close. Merkel said she believed it was the “final sprint” and she was “increasingly of the belief” that a Brexit agreement would be reached. Tusk nevertheless spoke obliquely of the UK’s “late doubts” whether the DUP could be persuaded to back a proposal that would mean a customs border running down the Irish Sea. This is something Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May had said no British PM could agree to. With DUP leader Arlene Foster taking a hard line in public, and Republic of Ireland premier Leo Varadkar stating that he too still had issues, there was talk of a multibillion backhander to ease the way for a DUP climbdown. Talks with the DUP took place into the late evening, as a key meeting between Barnier and EU ambassadors was repeatedly put back. Macron and various EU boxtops were already warning that a delay on the Oct 31 Brexit deadline may be needed because the two-day EU summit beginning today would be unlikely to finally work through Johnson’s proposal for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

Whatever happens, in the UK Johnson will need 320 MPs to agree his deal. The DUP is the most obvious kingmaker, with its 10 MPs part of Johnson’s arithmetic. Together with the DUP comes not only the Tory’s 60-strong pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) and particularly the 28 hard-line ERG “Spartans” who would not agree any deal that is unacceptable to the unionists. He will also need most of the 21 Tories Johnson expelled last month for their efforts to block a no-deal Brexit, now 20 after Sam Gyimah joined the Liberal Democrats, who may back a deal rather than risk a second referendum they may lose. This may leave Johnson depending on winning support from Labour’s benches from 19 MPs who have made clear they want no part of a second EU membership referendum that would be massively unpopular in their constituencies, but do not want to risk a no-deal outcome. One leading figure, Stephen Kinnock, claims that the real number ready to vote with Johnson is as high as 30 MPs. It is even possible that some pro-Remain MPs vote with the government if there is a promise of a “confirmatory ballot” second referendum that would pitch Johnson’s deal against staying in the EU. A second referendum promise may be enough to secure backing from the Liberal Democrats, for example. Johnson has so far continued to combine assurances that he will ask for an extension of the Brexit deadline if no deal is reached by Saturday, as mandated by the Benn Act, with declarations that the UK will leave the EU on Oct 31. Numerous means have been floated for the government to bypass the Benn Act’s provisions.

In such fraught circumstances for Britain’s ruling elite, divisions among Labour rather than among the Tories are emerging as central to the conflict in parliament. There are conflicting positions on how to respond to whatever proposals Johnson makes at this week’s “Super Saturday” sitting of parliament or perhaps later if an agreement is delayed. Most centre on how best to sideline Corbyn’s proposal that he first leads a “caretaker government” to block Brexit and secure an extension and then seek a general election. Only after having the opportunity for Labour to negotiate its own Lexit deal has Corbyn agreed to hold a second referendum. This is official party policy after September’s annual conference. So far there is little to suggest that Corbyn will be elevated to caretaker prime minister by the Liberal Democrats, the small Change UK group and pro-Remain dissident Tories supporting a no-confidence vote. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson continues to state that Corbyn doesn’t have the numbers and is unfit to be PM anyway. Labour’s Andrew Adonis claims that secret negotiations to prepare a no-confidence vote in Johnson have already won the backing of enough Tories to succeed, and Swinson must concede what the Liberal Democrats are committed to above all is preventing Brexit. This may be a moot point if Johnson requests an extension based on continued EU discussions on his deal. However, this does not affect the insistence of pro-Remain MPs, led by Labour’s Blairites, that a second referendum must take place before any general election. The start of this week was dominated by reports that Corbyn’s key ally, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, was now working with the Blairites to overturn Corbyn’s policy and even engineer his downfall in a “silent coup.” Denials have inevitably followed, including McDonnell declaring at a Labour rally Monday evening:

We just have to tell the media out there that they will never divide us.

Even so, before this public show of unity, UNITE, the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staff’s Association) and the CWU (Communication Workers Union) were issuing formal complaints to Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, protesting 37 members of Corbyn’s staff being summonsed to “informal meetings” headed by McDonnell ally Sir Bob Kerslake to talk about their future roles in his office. There was a meeting of the PLP earlier on Monday in which Corbyn loyalists Ian Lavery and Andrew Gwynne, in charge of coordinating Labour’s election campaign, told MPs the party had “never been in better shape” for a snap poll. One MP told the Politics Home website:

Lavery only united the PLP in one clear unambiguous position: we cannot have an election.

Kevan Jones MP reportedly asked Mr Lavery and Gwynne:

What colour is the sky on your planet?

Another said:

Half of us think we will lose to the Lib Dems, the other half are looking over their shoulders at the Brexit Party.

Last night, Shadow Brexit Minister Jenny Chapman said she expects Labour would support any amendment put forward Saturday to attach a confirmatory referendum to a Johnson deal. As usual, Corbyn is left straining to maintain unity with his party’s right-wing MPs and protect them from the party’s membership. He closed Monday’s rally by speaking directly to the Blairite McDonnell and his other main backer, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, pledging:

I want to bring the movement and the party together! That has been my whole objective during this whole saga over Brexit!

Yesterday he was busy placating his pro-Brexit faction, telling the media that Labour MPs who back Brexit will not have the whip removed as he believed in the “power of persuasion rather than the power of threat.” This will do nothing to please the dominant pro-Remain faction but will convince them they can continue to do whatever they want under Corbyn’s protection. Whatever happens Saturday, the Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech requiring that any Brexit deal is put to a “People’s Vote.” There will almost certainly be a large vote in favour on Labour’s benches, even if Corbyn whips against it, that might bring matters to a head. Meanwhile Corbyn’s central leadership core will continue to break apart, with the Skwarkbox website reporting:

Labour’s Northern MPs are now in discussions to build on their successful rearguard action (against McDonnell, Watson and Starmer) by caucusing as a parliamentary bloc (against) an attempted ‘remainer take-over.’

 

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