Published On: Thu, Oct 3rd, 2019

Time to give up, Barnier! Boris has moved on backstop, now it's EU's turn, says JOE BARNES


Mr Johnson and his team of advisers have spent recent weeks trying to please all parties while constructing a replacement to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. He has canvassed hardline eurosceptics in the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers, their parliamentary allies in the Democratic Unionist Party and even listened to dozens of concerns put forward by the EU negotiator Michel Barnier. And as a result, the Government now has an alternative proposal with the support of two out of three of those parties, which is one more than Theresa May had secured before putting her hated withdrawal agreement to the Commons.

Brussels is yet to be convinced by the plans. Mr Barnier has sowed the seeds of pessimism in dozens of private meetings since the proposals were hand-delivered by David Frost, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, on Wednesday afternoon.

In discussions with their European counterparts, UK officials will argue they believe there is a basis for a deal that has taken a great deal of compromise to reach.

Mr Johnson was happy to ensure Northern Ireland remains in the bloc’s single market for goods to eliminate the need for all regulatory checks – an upgrade on his previous offer to only align to the agri-food standards rulebook.

According to sources, large chunks of the original backstop text demanded by Brussels also remains in the new proposal.

Even the image of a final, or take-it-or-leave-it, offer was dismantled and turned into a proposal that represents a “broad landing zone” for future talks.

This movement, the Prime Minister hoped, showed he is ready to compromise and get to work with Brussels to strike a deal ahead of October 31.

But he isn’t foolish enough to admit that the new backstop doesn’t come without its concerns for Brussels.

UK negotiators will continue to work on their fears that the backstop could be completely collapsed by a single vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly or leaves blanks in plans for customs and VAT.

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But this presents him with a lesson. The compromise shown by Mr Johnson has secured the support of the DUP and Brexiteer Tory MPs, virtually guaranteeing a future deal safe passage through the ratification stage.

Despite the concessions made by Mr Johnson, he has kept the two volatile groups on board until now. He will soon lose their support if he capitulates further during crunch talks in Brussels over the coming days.

With vision, Mr Barnier, the man whose mandate was to secure a Brexit deal, will realise that small concessions on the EU side will prevent his legacy being tarnished.



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