Our correspondent The Rebel asks whether a deal is still possible with the EU as the Prime Minister says he is making a ‘final’ ‘offer’ during the continuing extraordinary political crisis, and Boris Johnson appears to up the ante at the Conservative conference.
The Rebel is a leading figure close to senior politicians in London as well as Cardiff Bay, and will always give readers the inside track on what is being discussed in the corridors of power.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day.
Between us we have more than 60 years of covering, and involvement in, politics – he has produced any number of political programmes on Radio and Television.
But as we spoke over coffee, there was a lot of staring into mid air and sentences which started strongly yet then trailed off into nothingness, because nobody knows what is actually going to happen over the next few weeks!
“What do you think is going to happen?” he asked.
“I have absolutely no idea,” I replied.
“OK then,” he went on to say.
“What would your money be on? Mine is on an extension (to Brexit) and then an election. It is the least unlikely outcome.”
“Umm”, I answered in a bewildered fashion. “I suppose mine would be on a ‘no deal’ and then an election”.
The only thing we were agreed on was that there would be a General Election, probably this Autumn or Winter.
All the polls indicate that Boris would win as the largest party, but probably not with an overall majority.
We both believed the bearded lefty is a complete loser – a lot of Jezza’s own MPs have written off the next election.
So let me try and give you what IS known!
Boris is massively keen for a deal with the EU – he and his adviser, staring-eyes Dominic, believe it will enhance their chances (which are already high) over Labour.
They both know there will be a level of chaos (the only question is how much – the Leavers say it will just be a few months before we reach the sunny uplands of being outside the EU) and nobody wants to fight an election against that background.
They are, though, quite prepared to do battle on the back of a ‘no-deal’ and then it will be Boris vs the EU and the ‘elite’ Remainer MPs in Parliament.
If the negotiations over the next few weeks do fail then the fight will be on over who gets the blame. The UK or the EU.
Boris’s plan for a new Irish backstop may not lead to a Brexit deal but it does amount to a significant initiative to break the deadlock.
For the first time he and, as significantly, the DUP have accepted the EU’s most pressing demand: that no goods should enter the island of Ireland that do not comply with the bloc’s single market standards.
It means that Britain can sign trade deals with countries such as America after Brexit but goods cannot enter the EU via Northern Ireland.
But there are still major problems and the signs are not good.
Brussels has given Boris one week to make his Brexit plan acceptable or EU leaders will refuse to discuss it at a crucial summit this month.
This new ultimatum, along with fundamental EU objections to his alternative to the Irish backstop, means the PM is highly unlikely to reach a deal in time for his October 31 Brexit deadline.
The EU are also likely to counter that the smuggling may be small, but in itself could harm the peace process. The UK will argue that the risk is far less acute than a no-deal Brexit.
And the proposal that Northern Ireland would diverge on existing EU VAT rates could damage the economy in the south. The issue of Northern Ireland consent will also concern the EU. The plan appears to give the DUP the power to terminate the deal before it comes into effect.
Michel Barnier (the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator) privately gave a scathing analysis of Bojo’s new plan for the Irish border, describing it as a trap.
The Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, issued a sombre statement after a phone call on Wednesday afternoon with Boris. Leo warned him that the legal texts tabled “do not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop”.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President (who has been extremely positive in the past), told Bojo that there remained “problematic points”.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy Prime Minister, said that there were “fundamental problems” with Boris’ offer and that if it represented his “final deal” then the UK would leave the EU without one.
The European parliament has told Bojo that his proposals for the Irish border do not “even remotely” amount to an acceptable deal for the EU.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium who coordinates the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said it was “nearly impossible” to see how a deal could be secured on the basis of the proposals
Even so, even more studiedly tousled haired than usual, Boris has said: “There is now very little time”.
On that at least we can all agree – everything else is up in the air!
Perhaps Bojo and young staring-eyes are looking into mid air too…
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!