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EU’s Honey Tongue

Despite fine talk EU is unwilling to soften its grip on Britain’s throat.

Yesterday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that he was ready to scrap the backstop if Mr Johnson came up with a convincing alternative.

The pound rose to its highest level for months against the euro and US dollar in the wake of these seeminlgy optimistic words from the commission president.

This, however, is nothing but a jeer. Mr Juncker simply reiterated what he said many times before: an onus to find an alternative arrangement to backstop is on Britain.

Recently, a British government official said: “Can we have something that is 100 per cent legally operable in legal text by October 19? Probably not. We need to see some flex on all sides.”

It seems that “some flex” is what the EU is unwilling to do.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney has buried Boris Johnson’s idea that Britain and EU could agree a general Brexit deal and sort out all questions over the Irish border after the UK leaves the bloc.

“We have a commitment from the British government over and over and over again — in writing and verbally — that they would work with us to put the issue and the anxiety around the Irish border question to rest now,” Mr Coveney told the BBC.

Earlier Boris Johnson said that he does not expect to be able to reach a full “legally operable” deal at a meeting of EU leaders on October 17-18 and that some of the details might have to be filled in later.

Yesterday, in Madrid the offer has been repeated by the UK’s Brexit secretary Steve Barclay who said that it would be better to resolve outstanding issues during a transition period after Britain leaves the EU rather than risk a no-deal departure.

Mr Coveney said: “What we are being asked to do by Stephen Barclay and others is replace a guarantee around the border question with a promise that we will somehow do our best to try to solve this issue in the future but we don’t know how yet.”

Yet, the “sort it out later” idea has been immediately rejected by the EU, which insists that Britain’s withdrawal agreement must have an “all-weather” guarantee against a hard Irish border.

The so-called backstop arrangement is a provision in the Brexit withdrawal agreement reached by Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May and the EU last year.

Essentially, if ratified, it would keep Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union and in some aspects within the European Single Market for until trade deal is negotiated by the UK and the EU.

From the UK’s perspective the backstop weakens its negotiation position and can keep Britain in the EU indefinitely.

It is not surprising then, that Mr Johnson is trying hard to remove the backstop from the withdrawal agreement.

Published: September 20, 2019