Of course: EU, UK pointing fingers ahead of Brexit crash-out

Whose fault will a no-deal Brexit be? The EU says to put the blame on Boris Johnson. The new Prime Minister went to the EU with an ultimatum to drop the backstop for the Irish border, or else:


Boris Johnson has no intention of renegotiating the withdrawal agreement and a no-deal Brexit is his “central scenario”, European diplomats have been told, amid hardening evidence in Westminster that the government is expecting to crash out of the EU. …

“It was clear UK does not have another plan,” a senior EU diplomat said of the meetings with Frost. “No intention to negotiate, which would require a plan. A no deal now appears to be the UK government’s central scenario.”

The disclosure came as No 10 insisted the government was “ready to negotiate in good faith” but made clear that Johnson would only agree to a deal without what he refers to as the “undemocratic backstop” – the mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland that could keep the UK in a customs union. The EU has repeatedly said the backstop is not up for negotiation.

Nonsense, responded Johnson deputy Michael Gove. Johnson wants to renegotiate the entire deal — but only if the EU and the Republic of Ireland stop insisting on a backstop for a soft border with Northern Ireland:

Gove said any refusal to negotiate or consider alternatives was on the EU’s side. “The prime minister has been clear that he wants to negotiate a good deal with the European Union,” he told reporters.

“He will apply all the energy of the government and ensure that in the spirit of friendliness we can negotiate a new deal. But one thing is clear: the old deal that was negotiated has failed to pass the House of Commons three times now, so we do need a new approach.

“Whatever happens, while we remain ready and willing to negotiate, the EU must appreciate that we’re leaving on 31 October, deal or no deal.”


Are these … different positions? They both seem to be saying the same thing. Johnson and Gove insist they’ll negotiate but only if the EU renounces the backstop. That was the message delivered by Johnson’s envoy, which was apparently heard loud and clear in Brussels:

European officials briefed on the meeting with Johnson’s envoy, David Frost, were told he had explained that there would be no discussions involving a backstop in Ireland and that a technological solution was the UK’s preferred option. He admitted, however, that “it would not be ready now for Brexit”.

That’s why the EU has insisted on the backstop — because after three years, the UK still has no plan to prevent a hard border in Ireland after breaking out of the customs union. That’s not just a Theresa May failure, but also one by the Brexiters themselves.  They’re asking the EU to accept a promise without any guarantees from the people who are actively breaking the existing relationships.

At any rate, this exchange over the last two days shows just how entrenched the positions have become. The deadline is less than three months away, and no grounds for avoiding the crash-out exist at the moment. Ireland’s Taoiseach believes that a no-deal Brexit can be avoided, but Leo Varadkar lists the three solutions that have no current hope of realization:


Asked during a press conference if he accepted a no-deal Brexit was now likely since the new UK prime minister had taken office, Mr Varadkar replied that a no-deal outcome could still either be avoided.

He said this could happen by ratifying the current withdrawal agreement, agreeing a further extension to the deadline, or revoking Article 50, the mechanism that triggered the Brexit process.

As long as Johnson’s the PM, none of those will happen. What if Johnson wasn’t the PM, though? Could the UK hold a snap election in time to change direction? Reuters does the math today and discovers it’s nearly impossible:

Lawmakers who want to stop no deal are threatening to bring the government down with a vote of no confidence. That would likely trigger an election, but could that happen before Brexit? …


Yes. British law states the country will cease to be a member of the European Union on Oct. 31, regardless of whether an exit deal has been agreed with the EU. It is within Johnson’s power to set a date in early November.

The absolute earliest an election could take place is now October 25th, assuming Parliament dispensed with its traditional Thursday election dates. Otherwise, they’d have to hold the election on Halloween at the earliest, the very day that Article 50 would take effect and remove the UK from the EU.


Like it or not, the UK and the EU are on terminal approach in this game of chicken.

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