How do you want today’s negotiations to turn out?

Michel Barnier optimistic of deal after PM makes concessions on Irish border

This may be a minority opinion round here, but I hope that a deal is agreed today. If it is it will probably be a bad deal in many respects. Nonetheless I would prefer not to let the best be the enemy of the good, or more to the point, the possible. Once we are out, new things can happen. I feel the need of some new things.

If, after that, Remainers manoeuvre to block such a deal (after wailing for months about how terrible the absence of one would be, as I was discussing yesterday) – that’s on them. Let them defend their choice to start playing Brexit II: Just when you thought it was safe to look at the news again.

Knowing when to fold ’em

Interesting times. Boris Johnson ‘on brink of Brexit deal’ after border concessions, reports the Guardian, making the best of what is for it a painful dilemma.

The Guardian, along with all the Remain side, has spent the last couple of years saying how apocalyptically dreadful it would be to leave the European Union without a deal. Now it looks like there just might be a deal. Opinions on the Leave side are likely to be divided as to whether this is a good thing, but spare a thought for those Remainers who must now choose whether to accept their salvation from what they said was the greatest peril imaginable, or continue their struggle for the ultimate prize of reversing the referendum entirely – at the very real risk of bringing about the very thing they most feared and finding it wasn’t so bad after all.

The unity candidate

The Sunday Times reports,

Jeremy Corbyn ‘would support John Bercow as unity PM’

This is some new meaning of the word “unity” not previously known to me. I do not believe I am alone in preferring the honest fanatic Jeremy Corbyn to John Bercow.

Jeremy Corbyn has privately told allies that he will step aside and allow someone else to become prime minister if Boris Johnson is forced from power.

Sources say the Labour leader has concluded that he would not win the support needed to lead a government of national unity. Corbyn has signalled to allies that he might support another candidate as long as it is not a Labour or Conservative MP.

John Bercow, a Tory MP before becoming Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009, has emerged as the Labour leader’s favoured compromise candidate after he ruled out Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who was expelled from the Tories last month.

I suspect that this is a trial balloon designed to make Jeremy Corbyn look good by comparison, but if John Bercow does “emerge” his way into being Prime Minister it will make his decisions made as Speaker during the last three years look as if they were nothing but a conspiracy to gain power, a process of emergence from the shadows brought to the threshold of completion by his recent meeting with the EU’s President-of-whichever-bit-of-the-EU-he’s-president-of, David Sassoli.

XR v Brexit: which will cause more disruption?

Extinction Rebellion aim to cause disruption. Obviously they will succeed, if not nearly as much as they’d like. Many Londoners may be made late for work. There will be some economic impact.

Brexitters would rather avoid disruption. Obviously we will not wholly succeed, though the effect may be not nearly as much as Project Fear would like. Many lorry drivers may be stuck in queues. There will be some economic impact.

Between now and the end of the year, which do readers expect to cause more?

(OK, it is not a fair comparison. I’m comparing the disruption caused by an actual no-deal Brexit to the disruption caused by Extinction Rebellion’s mere attempt to make us adopt their policy. If XR actually began the process of shutting down all economic activity in excess of ‘carbon-neutral’ within 7 years, they’d win hands down.)

More generally, how much does disrupting the economy matter in politics? To people who think little about politics except for a few weeks before an election, maybe a lot. To people who think about politics all the time, maybe very little, despite their making a huge song and dance about it.

(I, of course, like to think I have the balance about right – but then, don’t we all. 🙂 )

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Boris Johnson is about to go into a tunnel, apparently. I think that means something like: the EU has agreed to properly sit down and have a talk about that deal they said was the final possible deal.

What will Boris come out of the tunnel with?

  • A deal that gets us properly out of the EU but without any unpleasant trade restrictions?
  • A deal that is Brexit in name only?
  • No deal.

There is a faint possibility that Boris is so good at politics he will get a deal that is just Brexit-y enough and just un-Brexit-y enough to stay in power and get back to business as usual politics with no realignment.

Righty ho, Guy

Just when the Remain side had got some traction for their line about the evils of inflammatory language with that embarrassingly crude tweet from Leave.EU that called Angela Merkel a “kraut” and invoked the two world wars, along comes this soon-to-be-viral nugget from the European Parliament’s Brexit Co-ordinator.

The Independent – not the Express, not the Telegraph, not the Mail, the extremely pro-EU Independent – reports:

Brexiteers ‘are the real traitors’, EU’s Guy Verhofstadt says.

The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has branded Brexiteers “the real traitors”, in a significant escalation of rhetoric from Brussels.

Speaking in a debate in the EU’s legislature Guy Verhofstadt accused Boris Johnson of blaming everyone but himself for the situation the UK found itself in.

“The real reason why this is happening is very simply: it’s a blame game against everybody. A blame game against the European Union, against Ireland, against Mrs Merkel, against the British judicial system, against Labour, against the Lib Dems, even against Mrs May,” he said.

“The only one who is not to be blamed is Mr Johnson himself, apparently. But all the rest are the source of our problems. That is what is happening today. All those who are not playing his game are ‘traitors’ or a ‘collaborator’, or ‘surrenderers’.

“Well in my opinion, dear colleagues the real traitor is he or she who risks bringing disaster upon his country, its economy, and its citizens, by pushing Britain out of the European Union. That is in my opinion, a traitor.”

Let us hope the Liberal Democrats invite him back soon to do some more campaigning for them, so we can see how that line goes down on the doorsteps of Britain. Even in Camden it might be a hard sell.

What was the point?

Parliament will be prorogued later today. It has been sitting since the court judgement – that is during the latter half of the Labour conference week, when it would normally have been recessed, during the whole of the Tory conference week, when it would normally have been recessed, and during yesterday and today, when it could normally have been prorogued.

What exactly has parliament achieved with this extra time? I know of no act passed. What was the point? (This is a real question, not just rhetorical. By all means inform me in the comments if you can answer it.)

It was claimed to be essential that parliament perform its functions during this time. What essential thing(s) did it do?

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore”

Earlier today Robert Peston, the Political Editor of ITV News, tweeted:

This feels very big. PM spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at 8am this morning. According to Downing Street source, she told the PM that there will be no Brexit deal with the UK unless Northern Ireland is in the customs union “forever”.

The source insists that the word “forever” was repeated on multiple occasions.

A short while later Kate McCann of Sky News responded:

A Number 10 source on PM call with Germany’s Merkel: “If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever. It also made clear that they are willing to torpedo the Good Friday Agreement.’

James Forsyth of the Spectator has relayed a statement from what I suspect is the same “contact in No. 10”:

‘The negotiations will probably end this week. Varadkar doesn’t want to negotiate. Varadkar was keen on talking before the Benn Act when he thought that the choice would be ‘new deal or no deal’. Since the Benn Act passed he has gone very cold and in the last week the official channels and the backchannels have also gone cold. Varadkar has also gone back on his commitments — he said if we moved on manufactured goods then he would also move but instead he just attacked us publicly. It’s clear he wants to gamble on a second referendum and that he’s encouraging Barnier to stick to the line that the UK cannot leave the EU without leaving Northern Ireland behind.

There are quite a few people in Paris and Berlin who would like to discuss our offer but Merkel and Macron won’t push Barnier unless Ireland says it wants to negotiate. Those who think Merkel will help us are deluded. As things stand, Dublin will do nothing, hoping we offer more, then at the end of this week they may say ‘OK, let’s do a Northern Ireland only backstop with a time limit’, which is what various players have been hinting at, then we’ll say No, and that will probably be the end.

Varadkar thinks that either there will be a referendum or we win a majority but we will just put this offer back on the table so he thinks he can’t lose by refusing to compromise now. Given his assumptions, Varadkar’s behaviour is arguably rational but his assumptions are, I think, false. Ireland and Brussels listen to all the people who lost the referendum, they don’t listen to those who won the referendum and they don’t understand the electoral dynamics here.

If this deal dies in the next few days, then it won’t be revived. To marginalise the Brexit Party, we will have to fight the election on the basis of ‘no more delays, get Brexit done immediately’. They thought that if May went then Brexit would get softer. It seems few have learned from this mistake. They think we’re bluffing and there’s nothing we can do about that, not least given the way May and Hammond constantly talked tough then folded.

So, if talks go nowhere this week, the next phase will require us to set out our view on the Surrender Act. The Act imposes narrow duties. Our legal advice is clear that we can do all sorts of things to scupper delay which for obvious reasons we aren’t going into details about. Different lawyers see the “frustration principle” very differently especially on a case like this where there is no precedent for primary legislation directing how the PM conducts international discussions.

We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future cooperation — cooperation on things both within and outside EU competences. Those who support delay will go to the bottom of the queue. [This source also made clear that defence and security cooperation will inevitably be affected if the EU tries to keep Britain in against the will of its government] Supporting delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us.

We will also make clear that this government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless. They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals. This won’t happen. We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.

‘When they say ‘so what is the point of delay?’, we will say “This is not our delay, the government is not asking for a delay — Parliament is sending you a letter and Parliament is asking for a delay but official government policy remains that delay is an atrocious idea that everyone should dismiss. Any delay will in effect be negotiated between you, Parliament, and the courts — we will wash our hands of it, we won’t engage in further talks, we obviously won’t given any undertakings about cooperative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere cooperation’ will be in the toilet, we will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave. Those who supported delay will face the inevitable consequences of being seen to interfere in domestic politics in a deeply unpopular way by colluding with a Parliament that is as popular as the clap.

Those who pushed the Benn Act intended to sabotage a deal and they’ve probably succeeded. So the main effect of it will probably be to help us win an election by uniting the leave vote and then a no deal Brexit. History is full of such ironies and tragedies.’

Bear in mind that all this comes from anonymous briefings to Lobby journalists. But if even half of it is true, that word “forever” will probably go down in history as sounding the death knell of a Brexit deal.