Another day, another Brexit deadline

While Donald Trump feuds with the prime minister of Denmark over his idiotic proposal to buy Greenland, over in the UK his acolyte Boris Johnson is trying desperately to persuade European leaders that the UK should be allowed to exit the EU without the imposition of the Northern Ireland backstop. They are having none of it, which should have come as no surprise since that is what they have been saying all along.

The European Union has rebuffed Boris Johnson’s attempts to tear up the Irish backstop, in a coordinated response that appeared to close the door on further meaningful Brexit negotiations.

The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, accused the British government of failing to admit that its policies would lead to the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Tusk, who is also expected to meet Johnson this weekend, wrote: “The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found. Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it.”

In a sign of the EU’s carefully coordinated response, the European commission issued its own statement minutes later saying it shared Tusk’s view.

French president Emmanuel Macron has said that nothing will come of Johnson’s efforts during his meeting with G7 leaders.

Macron flatly dismissed demands from Johnson to renegotiate the UK’s exit from the EU, saying it was “not an option”.

He said scrapping the Irish backstop was impossible and would mean giving the EU an unacceptable choice between protecting its internal market by reintroducing border controls at the Irish border, or preserving peace on the island.

Macron insisted that Europe would not risk peace in Ireland and that it would be “irresponsible” to do so: “We must all remember recent history – there was war in this part of Europe until recently and those who play with that forget history too fast.”

And he dismissed any suggestion that the EU would be to blame for a no-deal exit. “It will be the responsibility of the British government, always, because firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke article 50,” he said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has long been the most accommodating of the European leaders towards the UK and has thrown Johnson a bone by saying that he has 30 days to come up with a new proposal but it is not clear what he can achieve in that time frame that has been impossible to achieve in the last three years, since the facts on the ground have not changed and she knows it.

“The letter to the president of the European council is not a serious offer, and Boris Johnson knows it,” said Norbert Röttgen, an ally of the chancellor who heads the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

In a four-page letter published on Monday night, Johnson called on the EU to scrap the backstop, calling the last-resort solution for a seamless border on the island of Ireland anti-democratic and “inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state”.

The British prime minister’s first official proposal to the EU since taking office last month has been met with responses ranging from indifference to incredulity in the German capital, with senior officials saying it showed Westminster’s debate on the withdrawal agreement to be stuck on the same arguments of the so-called Brady amendment, which the EU rejected in January.

“The British prime minister starts his letter by saying he is personally committed to finding an agreement, but there is no sign in the rest of the letter that this is actually the case,” said Röttgen, a delegate for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “To suggest the backstop could weaken the Good Friday agreement – that’s strong stuff.

“If Johnson really wanted to achieve something on his visits to Paris and Berlin, he would have been well advised against writing this letter.”

But Johnson, like Trump, has seized on this meager concession by Merkel to claim that it was obtained due to his negotiating skills. And, again like Trump, he has blamed others for his failure to get a better deal, saying that it was the defections by Conservative rebel MPs that emboldened the EU to not renegotiate, which is nonsense.

So now we have an interim deadline of 30 days before the ultimate deadline of October 31. And just like the many deadlines before them, likely nothing will happen until the last couple of weeks.


  1. blf says

    Update / addendum: Macron is backing Merkel’s 30-day timeframe. Merkel’s also clarified what many people thought, it isn’t a “hard deadline” insomuch as emphasizing there isn’t much time remaining until the currently-hard 31-Oct Boo! date.

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    This ‘deadline’ has all the appearance to me of selling rope while being amazed that the buyer hasn’t managed to hang himself with it yet.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Let’s see, Ireland and Scotland unite and negotiate a new deal with the EU. Northern Ireland is ignored. Not likely but not totally unreasonable.

    Who cares about a obstreperous province that is smaller than many Canadian lakes?

  4. file thirteen says

    @jrkrideau #3

    The people who live near the “border”, and those who cross it for business or employment reasons, care, and there are a lot of them. Whatever stance people are taking on Brexit, nobody wants a border dividing Ireland. That’s because despite all the bluster from those who could never ever ever EVER tolerate a united Ireland, it’s already united in all but name. If it wasn’t, enforcing that “border” wouldn’t be such an outrageous proposition.

    That’s why a united Ireland needs to be maintained (except that it can’t be called that until a generation passes or people’s old grievances will rise up again) and the border (the “backstop” is in fact a border) needs to be between Ireland and the rest of the UK. And Ireland are fine with that, and Northern Ireland aren’t really fine with that, but when it’s a choice between that or a land border, only those that rely on travelling to and from Great Britain think it’s a worse choice.

    But ABdPJ says they can have their cake and eat it too. On the face of it that sounds absurd, but might he have a point? Logic says that the three requirements of not having a land border, not having a sea border, and leaving the customs union are incompatible, but what happens if a no-deal Brexit occurs, and the UK refuses to enforce any kind of border control between NI and Ireland? I mean, what really does happen then? Does the EU move military might to maintain the border? I think that’s absolutely inconceivable. So what then?

    I don’t know, but ABdPJ might have calculated that in that situation the EU will eventually have to go with one of his “alternative solutions” after all. Is he right? If so, it seems he’s already won and the EU might as well negotiate to abolish the backstop now.

  5. unit000 says

    My suspicion is that Johnson’s brinksmanship on No Deal is aimed more at Westminster than Brussels. If the alternative is leaving without a deal in place, Parliament may pass the thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement out of desperation.

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