Morning briefing: Boris and backstop - Kowtowing at G7 - Withdrawal Bill left wanting
In arguably the most shambolic 24 hours of the Brexit negotiations to date, the Brexit Secretary repeatedly threatened to resign, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan suggested we could have a referendum on the final deal, and a recording emerged of Boris Johnson massacring the Government's negotiating strategy. Amid the chaos, the prime minister put forward a proposal on the Irish border "backstop" that is sure to be rejected by the EU. It was nothing short of omnishambles.
Boris Johnson is prepared to compromise over the time it takes to reach hard Brexit, but not the destination. Still, he’s not confident of achieving his goal even in the long run.
That’s the main takeaway from a leaked recording of the foreign secretary’s astonishing remarks to Tory activists on Wednesday night, published by BuzzFeed.
Johnson’s comments raise again the question of how long he can stay in the Cabinet. He said it was “folly” that the government was allowing the Northern Ireland ”tail to wag the dog”.
The foreign secretary also predicted a more “combative” phase of the Brexit talks which could lead to “meltdown”. He added: “I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.”
Johnson’s most revealing remark was his warning that Britain could be “locked in orbit around the EU, in the customs union and to a large extent still in the single market,” without “full freedom on our trade policy, our tariff schedules, and not having freedom with our regulatory framework either.”
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The foreign secretary is right. The so-called “backstop” proposal for the Irish border published by the government yesterday was initially billed as a victory for David Davis, another hard Brexiter.
When the Brexit secretary threatened to resign because of fears we would be stuck in limbo forever, Theresa May agreed to add a line saying the UK “expects” the backstop to end by 2021. But quizzed on her way to the G7 summit in Canada, the prime minister twice refused to give cast-iron guarantee that the deadline won’t slip.
May is dishonest even saying she “expects” a new customs arrangement to be ready by end-2021. The Cabinet can’t decide between two schemes, neither of which is viable in any case.
It’s not just the deadline that will slip. As I wrote for InFacts yesterday, the prime minister will also have to agree to be a rule-taker, accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction and pay money into the EU’s budget before she can get a deal on the backstop.
It’s not just Johnson who will be unhappy. Patriotic pro-Europeans won’t like “losing control” either. All the more reason for the people to get vote on what is likely to be a really miserable deal.
Video of the day
WATCH: David Davis used to claim that Brexit would be "easy enough with a steady hand".
Kowtowing at the G7
While Emmanuel Macron is calling on fellow G7 members to stand firm against Donald Trump’s “crude hegemony”, Theresa May is warning leaders not to pick a fight with the US president. Our prime minister is following the classic Brexiter script of sucking up to America, despite Trump launching a trade war against us. It’s not getting anywhere. Trump is frustrated by her “school mistress tone”, according to the Telegraph, and has turned down the opportunity to hold bilateral talks. This is a motto for post-Brexit Britain. No influence in Europe and no influence in America either.
Quote of the day
“You can’t, among allies in the international context, start a trade war. For me it’s a question of principle.”
French president Emmanuel Macron at a press conference ahead of the G7 summit
Withdrawal Bill concessions left wanting
The government has tabled a series of concessions to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the hope of winning over potential Tory rebels. Yet the amendments fall far short of what’s necessary, failing to address the border in Northern Ireland and the customs union. Downing Street is also hoping to deprive Parliament of a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal, instead proposing a 28-day cooling off period if MPs reject May’s final Brexit settlement; hardly the parliamentary sovereignty that Brexiters professed would be bolstered by Brexit. Tory “mutineers” mustn’t let themselves be fobbed off.
Graphic of the day
Geordie to the rescue?
Pro-European Geordie Greig has been appointed editor of the Daily Mail to replace the vitriolic Brexiter Paul Dacre. He only takes up the role in November. But that still could be useful to the People’s Vote campaign. After all, a vote won’t happen before that.
Once Greig is in the job, Dacre won’t be able to pull the strings. The new editor will report to Lord Rothermere, the group’s chairman. What’s more, Dacre tends to spend three or four weeks away at a time, either at his home on the British Virgin Islands or at his Scottish estate, the FT says.
Tweet of the day
Philosopher and campaigner AC Grayling muses on the consequences of Brexit trade disruption. Worth noting: a Beluga is a large aeroplane, not just a white whale.
More Brexit news…
Top Brexit comment
Suzanne Moore: David Davis: a fantasist in charge of a fantasy Brexit (Guardian)
Luke Lythgoe: 6 ways to manage migration inside EU (InFacts)
Today, Friday 8 June
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