|Who’s willing to pull the plug? That’s the only real question right now and the current answer is nobody. With Britain and the EU playing the blame game over why a deal won’t happen, neither side wants to be the one to call the time of death.
So instead, we have this odd dance of pseudo-negotiations. Today, Boris Johnson heads to Cheshire to meet his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar. If the meeting, as expected, fails to produce a breakthrough then negotiations will formally conclude tomorrow.
– Withholding consent for consent to be withheld –
There was a flurry of rumours yesterday about a “big” offer from the EU, but that’s failed to emerge. The Times reported that the EU would agree to Stormont being given a veto over the backstop, but only with a cross-community majority.
While the offer hasn’t been put to the UK formally, it is in many ways quite clever politically. It addresses the EU’s fears of being undemocratic, while effectively neutralising the veto because the nationalist parties in Ulster would almost certainly never bring an end to the backstop.
Yet, that’s also why it isn’t viable. The DUP see it as a veto being handed to Sinn Fein, but also as undermining the right to a minority veto – something of growing importance as demographics shift in the province.
Indeed, the leaking of the proposals may simply have been an attempt to embarrass Johnson and make the EU look reasonable.
The problem is that while consent is one of two major issues with the UK’s latest proposals, it is the one that needs to be fixed last. There is no point sorting out consent until there is a deal to give consent to. And on customs, the other major issue, there is no sign of a solution.
– Upping the tempo –
Things should, although they may well not, move quite quickly once the talks are over. On Monday, Parliament will reopen with the Queen’s Speech. MPs will then vote on it later in the week and, probably, defeat the Government.
Meanwhile, Johnson is expected in Brussels on Thursday for the EU summit, while the Benn Act requires him to request an extension if there is no deal by Saturday.
The PM announced yesterday that the Commons would sit on a Saturday for only the fourth time since the war, ostensibly to vote on his deal.
Because he almost certainly won’t have a deal to present, it will instead be Johnson’s chance to set out how he intends to bypass the Benn Act – or to admit defeat.
Attention will then turn to whether an election is triggered. Jeremy Corbyn is reported to have offered Johnson the date of November 26 and will, today, make a speech in which he repeats that he is ready for an election as soon as Brexit is extended.
– The future of the party is on the line –
His party isn’t so keen, according to The Times. Opposition MPs fear a wipeout under Corbyn and want to put off an election until Brexit is resolved. Quite how that is meant to happen is left unclear.
Even with a substantial rebellion, Corbyn shouldn’t have any trouble getting the numbers needed to trigger a general election. The party would then run on its compromise plan of negotiating a soft Brexit before putting it to a referendum.
What the Tories will choose to do is far less clear. The row over whether the party can run on a no-deal platform continues. Some MPs, including Damian Green, Theresa May’s de facto deputy PM, believe that Johnson has backed down on the issue after reports that dozens of MPs would be unwilling to campaign for no deal.
Others are far from sure that that’s what the PM has done. Camilla Tominey has the full ins and outs of the row and the splits over the role of Dominic Cummings here.
At the core of it is a division between those who think that Cummings wants to deliver Brexit no matter the cost to the Conservative Party and those who think that without delivering Brexit there will be no Tory Party to protect.