Is There Light At The End Of The Brexit Tunnel For Boris Johnson?

Serious, top secret negotiations are due to take place this weekend.
Boris Johnson … in cake form.
Boris Johnson … in cake form.
Press Association

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Remainers are fond of reminding Boris Johnson of his policy on cake, the prime minister having once proudly declared he was “pro-having it and pro-eating it”.

The subtext being that, when it comes to Brexit, the PM cannot pretend everyone’s a winner when leaving the EU requires what politicians might euphemistically call “tough choices”.

It has been a significant 24 hours in Britain’s journey towards leaving, with the “pathway to a possible deal”, cautiously set out by Johnson and Irish premier Leo Varadkar in a joint statement on Thursday, transforming into full “tunnel” negotiations, with serious, top secret talks taking place between the EU 27 and the UK this weekend.

But while there has been a lot of theatre, statements from both sides have been light on detail. We still do not know who does and does not get cake.

Johnson, who in the late afternoon did a clip with broadcasters, dropped a huge hint that it could be the DUP who are forced to compromise.

The PM twice refused to answer whether Northern Ireland would stay in the customs union: “Well, I can certainly tell you that under no circumstances will we see anything that damages the ability of the whole of the United Kingdom to take full advantage of Brexit,” said Johnson, in an apparent bid to avoid the question.

During Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was a “blood red” line for her party that there would be no regulatory border in the Irish Sea.

Foster shot back with a warning to Johnson about the Union, reminding the PM that the “DUP is very relevant in the parliamentary arithmetic” in the Commons and there must be a “clear acceptance that the economic and constitutional integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom” be respected.

Stressing her party wanted a “sensible deal”, she added it was vital Northern Ireland got democratic consent to any alignment of the region with EU regulations. It is unclear if talks covered whether that would mean a poll of the people or a vote by politicians in Stormont.

The PM also appears to have softened his “do or die” rhetoric over Britain leaving with or without a deal on Halloween, saying only that “if we can’t get the right way forward for the whole of the UK, Northern Ireland included, clearly that will mean that we have to come out on different terms”.

Time is tight, with the EU Council summit set to take place on October 17 and 18, and the Benn Act kicking in on October 19 if a deal fails to materialise.

The mood music from the EU would suggest that Johnson has offered a significant concession, which may make a short technical extension necessary to get a deal through.

Hardliner Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, welcomed “constructive” talks before cautioning “Brexit is like climbing a mountain: we need vigilance, determination and patience”.

The mountain for Johnson may be in the Commons rather than on the continent, because any deal still looks likely to be rejected.

Nigel Evans, a key European Research Group member, said Tory Brexiteers who three times rejected May’s deal could be prepared to vote for concession ... if the DUP was in favour.

Johnson could then turn to Labour Leave MPs, 19 of which wrote to EU Council president Donald Tusk last week urging them to work “night and day” to get a deal.

But division is rife among this group also, with some ready to back almost anything and others preferring a UK-wide customs deal.

They are also set to face renewed pressure from unions to oppose Johnson, with TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady saying in a Labour List piece on Friday: “We can’t trust them to safeguard good quality jobs in the parts of the country that need them most.”

One thing is certain: pro-second referendum MPs are ready to move. They believe their compromise – backing a deal on condition of a confirmatory ballot – is key to breaking the deadlock and that now is their moment.

Labour’s Phil Wilson told Sky News they could amend the Queen’s speech, due on Monday, or Johnson’s deal.

“We will be bringing it forward,” he said.

With Johnson and Corbyn still favouring a snap general election over an early referendum, however, this juncture could be their last chance.

“I believe it is three-dimensional poker, and we’re playing very high-risk stakes here.”

– Tory Brexiteer Nigel Evans on hopes of a deal.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has told GQ that he and Jeremy Corbyn will stand down if Labour loses the next general election. He also said Labour’s next leader should be female and that Tony Blair’s former spinner Alastair Campbell, who interviewed him, should be allowed to rejoin the party.

Boris Johnson has warned a London City Hall watchdog that it has no right or remit to investigate his relationship with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri. A letter, from the prime minister’s lawyers to the head of the London Assembly oversight committee, challenges its demands for “extensive” details of his links to Arcuri.

Extinction Rebellion has moved on from Westminster, banks and airports and is now targeting the BBC over its coverage of climate change. Around 150 activists with banners saying “BBC Your Silence is Deadly” blockaded New Broadcasting House in central London.

The Mystery Of Rudy Giuliani’s Vienna Trip – The Atlantic.

Your MP’s Voting Record On Climate Change – The Guardian.

Why Elizabeth Warren Is Closing In Fast On Joe Biden – NYT.

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