Brexit Secretary hints UK could rethink DUP veto on deal

Don’t forget everyone the DUP are lying to everyone! And the elections are just around the corner. ‘PUT YOUR VOTE WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!

Stephen Barclay also says government willing to discuss detail of customs proposals

Stephen Sparrow Brexit Secretary

The Brexit secretary has hinted that the government could amend its proposal to give the Democratic Unionist party an effective veto over its plan for an alternative to the Irish backstop

With EU leaders not willing to accept the UK’s ideas and talks between the two sides suspended over the weekend when Boris Johnson had been hoping to intensify them, Stephen Barclay said on Sunday that the government would be willing to discuss changes to the mechanism designed to ensure the new arrangements receive political approval in Northern Ireland.

He also sounded open to possible further movement on customs, saying the UK was willing to discuss the detail of how it’s plan might work

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In rhetorical terms the government has shifted considerably from what it was saying just before it published its plan for an alternative to the backstop on Wednesday, when it was insisting this would be its “final offer” to the EU.

But the gap between the two sides remains considerable, and Barclay’s emollient language may be motivated as much by a desire to deflect accusations that the government is being unreasonable as by any serious expectation of a deal being reached before the EU summit starting on 17 October.

Under the UK plan, Northern Ireland would remain in the EU single market for goods after Brexit but in the UK customs territory. This arrangement, intended to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, would depend on the Northern Ireland assembly voting for it, and continuing to vote for it every four years.

One objection to this is that the assembly is currently suspended. Another is that, under the “petition of concern” mechanism used for contentious issues in the assembly, votes have to be agreed not just by a narrow majority but with the backing of a significant block of both unionist and nationalist assembly members. In practice this means the main unionist and nationalist parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, can exercise a veto.

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The No 10 plan envisages the assembly having to vote for Northern Ireland joining the EU single market for goods, meaning the vote could only be won with DUP support. If the default were for Northern Ireland to be in that arrangement, only exiting if the assembly voted to leave, then in practice it would be Sinn Féin that had the veto.

On Friday Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland secretary, was told by some of the non-DUP parties in Northern Ireland that what was being proposed was a non-starter.

One source with knowledge of the meeting said: “The message has gone back from all quarters in Northern Ireland, from Sinn Féin to the Traditional Unionist Voice, that this is unworkable and it will destabilise the institutions and the Good Friday agreement and is not plausible – and in light of that, if [Smith] is serious about getting a deal, he has to come back with something more realistic.”

Jamie Bryson showing his true hatred to the EU by supporting the Nazis and German SS

On Sunday, in an interview on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Barclay indicated the government might consider moving on this. Asked if he was willing to change the system being used to ensure the new arrangements had the backing of the people on the island of Ireland, he replied: “The key issue is the principle of consent.

Jamie Bryson showing his full support for Erin go bragh (allegiance to Ireland) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erin_go_bragh

“Now, the mechanism – we’ve set out proposals in our legal text. We can obviously, as part of the intense negotiations in the coming days, discuss that mechanism.”

Barclay was also asked if the UK would shift on its plans for minimal customs checks, away from the border, on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Ireland. These are currently unacceptable to EU leaders who complain they are too vague and that they would in practice fail to protect the integrity of the single market and the customs union.

Asked if the government was willing to compromise further on customs, Barclay said: “We’ve set out a broad landing zone. In the detail of the negotiations, of course we can get into the detail as to how operationally they work, what legal certainty is required by the commission.”

In public ministers have sounded relatively conciliatory in recent days, while also stressing that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October despite parliament having passed a law, the Benn act, intended to stop a no-deal Brexit. In private government sources have been briefing that the prime minister might subvert the act, and even try ignoring a vote in parliament for him to be replaced by someone else as leader of an interim government.

Asked if Johnson would comply with the Benn act, which requires him to write to the EU by 19 October requesting a Brexit extension if no deal has been agreed by then, and if MPs have not voted to authorise no deal, Barclay replied: “I can absolutely confirm that the government will abide by the law. The prime minister is clear on that.”

Asked if that meant he would send the letter, Barclay said: “Whatever the law says, we will comply with the law.”

But Barclay sidestepped a question about why a “senior No 10 source” told the BBC that Johnson was not prevented by the Benn act “from doing other things that cause no delay”, including sending messages to EU countries intended to persuade them to reject an extension.

In a separate interview on the Andrew Marr Show, Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, said Johnson would be acting unlawfully if he did this.

“If you send the letter, as you are required to under the law, and then seek to undermine it by other means, you have not kept faith with the law. You have not fulfilled your specific statutory duty to seek an extension. That would be unlawful conduct,” she said.

With many thanks to: The Guardian and Andrew Sparrow and Lisa O’Carroll for the original story

Tories extend lead over Labour to 10 points despite chaotic week

More than half of all leave voters are now planning to vote for Boris Johnson

The Conservatives have extended their lead over Labour as pro-Brexit voters return the party, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer but I wouldn’t hold my breath 😂😂🤣🤣

Despite a week of political chaos that has seen Boris Johnson purge the party of 21 MPs who oppose his plans, the Tories recorded a 10-point lead over Labour. For the first time since March, more than half (53%) of leave voters now intend to vote Conservative. Almost half of all voters (46%) now think the Conservative party has in effect become the Brexit party.

The polling will be used by Johnson’s team as evidence that their ruthless strategy to push hard to secure Brexit and hold an election can work. However, the strategy has run aground as opposition parties are blocking an election from taking place.

Anti-Brexit protesters decry Johnson’s ‘coup’ in London and Leeds
The Conservatives are up 3 points to 35% of the vote, while the Brexit party is down 3 points to 13%. The Liberal Democrats are up 2 points to 17%, with Labour down 1 point to 25%.

Opinium said there was a considerable amount of voter churn, with only the Lib Dems retaining an overwhelming proportion of their vote from the last election (83% of 2017 Lib Dems would vote for the party again). Both the Conservatives and Labour are on track to lose votes to the Lib Dems among their remainer wing and lose votes to the Brexit party from their leave wing.

For the first time since the 2017 general election, Opinium said it was recording a direct shift in votes between the two major parties. Just over a fifth (22%) of Labour leave voters are now intending to vote Conservative.

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Johnson’s personal ratings have been dented after his bruising week in the Commons. Now only just over a third (36%) think he would be the best prime minister, down from 41% last month. However, Jeremy Corbyn is not benefiting from Johnson’s troubles. Only 16% say he would be the best prime minister.

Only 37% approve of the way that Johnson is handling the Brexit process, while 43% disapprove. However, that is better than than the ratings for Corbyn. Just 17% approve of the Labour leader’s response, and 20% approve of Jo Swinson’s.

Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament has not upset leave voters. The public as a whole is divided on this: 33% support the prime minister’s prorogation of parliament, while 36% oppose it. This is split evenly along EU referendum lines: 59% of leavers support the prorogation, while 61% of remainers oppose it.

Adam Drummond, the head of political polling at Opinium, said: “We’re facing unprecedented times in Westminster, and it’s very difficult to predict what will happen in the next few days, let alone further beyond. While Boris Johnson isn’t garnering much support from the public, he does at least remain ahead of his closest rivals, and more than double the amount of people approve of the way he has handled Brexit compared with Jeremy Corbyn.

“The reason for these numbers is that Boris Johnson has invited the clear disapproval of remainers on Brexit, in return for the clear backing of leave voters. On the other hand, opposition leaders have managed to unite leave voters in disapproving of their response to the government without succeeding in wholeheartedly winning over remainers.”

Opinium polled 2,009 people online from 4-6 September.

With many thanks to: The Guardian Newspaper and Michael Savage (Policy Editor) for the original story 

Michel Barnier rebuffs UK calls for flexibility on the Irish Border

Chief negotiator says EU ready to improve proposal but will not accept British ideas for compromise

Michel Barnier has rebuffed British calls for the European Union to soften its stance on the contested issue of the Irish border and said a “moment of truth” was fast approaching on a Brexit deal.

May will appeal directly to EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg to soften their stance over UK access to the single market and customs union. She is expected to tell them on Wednesday night that Brussels needs to shift. A senior No 10 official said: “To come to a successful conclusion, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to do the same.”

Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the bloc was ready to improve its proposal on avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland but stopped short of accepting British ideas for compromise, after the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, called on the EU to show flexibility.

“The European council in October will be the moment of truth, it is the moment when we shall see if we have an agreement,” Barnier said.

The Irish border has emerged as the biggest stumbling block to the Brexit deal that Theresa May hopes to strike with the EU this autumn. While the EU and UK have agreed there should be no hard border to prevent any return to violence, they are deadlocked over how to manage what will become a 310-mile frontier between the UK and EU.

Both sides have proposed fallback plans, known as backstops, that would kick into place if trade talks fail to settle the question. The EU’s involves Northern Ireland following EU law on customs and goods, a plan May has said no British prime minister could ever accept.

Barnier said the EU was working to improve its proposal, adding that the problem had been caused by “the UK’s decision to leave the EU, its single market and the customs union”. Seeking to counter British criticism that the EU plan eroded UK sovereignty, he said: “What we talking about here is not a land border, not a sea border, it is a set of technical checks and controls. We respect the territorial integrity of the UK and we respect the constitutional order of the UK.”

Barnier was speaking after a 90-minute meeting with the EU’s 27 European affairs ministers at a summit in Brussels. Many countries intervened in the debate to stress the importance of reaching a deal and its timing.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, got a full update from Barnier on the backstop developments and later described his meeting as “excellent”. The Irish cabinet had earlier agreed to hire 451 new staff for border duties out of a total of 1,077 needed for ports and airports.

Ireland is among several EU countries concerned that having an emergency summit in November will take the pressure off the British in the coming weeks.

May will appeal to EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg to soften their stance over UK access to the single market and customs union. She is expected to tell them on Wednesday night that Brussels needs to shift. A senior No 10 official said: “To come to a successful conclusion, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to do the same.”

Downing Street believes that the UK has developed its negotiating position to reach the Chequers plan and it is now time for other EU countries to show some flexibility in order to finally strike a deal. The prime minister will argue that with “goodwill and determination” the UK and the EU could avoid a “disorderly” Brexit that would be damaging for both sides and instead strike a deal that benefited both.

“Neither side can demand the ‘unacceptable’ of the other, such as an external customs border between different parts of the United Kingdom. No other country would accept it if they were in the same situation,” she will say.

May will tell her fellow leaders that the EU’s current proposal does not respect the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK as it effectively suggests a customs border down the Irish Sea with its backstop plan.

She is expected to deny suggestions by EU officials that the UK is attempting to cherry-pick by seeking the rights of membership without the obligations.

“That is not what we are doing,” she will say. “What we are proposing is a fair arrangement that will work for the EU’s economy as well as the UK’s, without undermining the single market.”

No 10 has been cautiously optimistic in recent days that the UK can expect a softening of tone at the Salzburg summit from some EU leaders who are keen to nail down a Brexit deal this autumn.

It remains to be seen whether that translates into a shift in negotiating position from Brussels, where officials have been more sceptical. The EU27 will wait to discuss next steps, including whether to relax Barnier’s negotiating mandate, until May has left the room.

Meanwhile, Brussels is preparing to step up its legal action against the UK in a case of alleged customs fraud. The European commission has accused HM Revenue and Customs of negligence in controls that enabled Chinese fraudsters to evade duties, causing a €2.7bn (£2.4bn) loss to the EU budget.

The commission will announce the next step in the process on Wednesday, the final stage before it can take the government to the European court of justice.

Brussels launched the action in March, and British officials see the timing of the latest move – on the eve of the Salzburg summit – as provocative. “I can only speculate on the reasons, but it seems pretty obvious what is going on,” a No 10 insider said.

A government spokesman said: “The UK does not accept liability for the alleged losses or recognise the estimate of alleged duty evaded. We take customs fraud very seriously and we continue to evolve our response as new threats emerge.”

The alleged fraud has raised tensions between the EU and UK, contributing to mistrust about British officials’ ability to collect duties on behalf of the bloc, as proposed by the government in its unprecedented customs partnership.

With many thanks to: The Guardian for the original story.