The government has toughened its negotiating stance with the EU for the second time in 24 hours today, telling Brussels that British officials will stop attending most meetings from September 1 to free up time to work on Brexit.
It comes after Boris Johnson’s open letter to Donald Tusk of yesterday – which labelled the Irish backstop ‘unviable’ and ‘undemocratic’ and demanded its removal from any deal to be struck before the UK’s October 31 departure date – was snubbed by European leaders.
The Department for Exiting the European Union said UK officials will now attend only the meetings that ‘really matter’ of more than 800 scheduled.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said British attendance would drop by more than half, freeing up ‘hundreds of hours’ to work on ‘get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead’
Boris Johnson, pictured yesterday on a visit to Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, has told the EU in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk the Irish backstop was ‘simply unviable’
The PM’s top aide Dominic Cummings arriving at Downing Street today
He told The Telegraph: ‘An incredible amount of time and effort goes into EU meetings with attendance just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Our diligent, world-class officials also spend many hours preparing for them whether in reading the necessary papers or working on briefings.
‘From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours.
‘This will free up time for Ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.’
This evening the Prime Minister struck a more conciliatory tone, talking about ‘our friends in the EU’ while insisting he would have the backstop removed from the deal agreement.
He bullishly promised tonight he would enter talks with EU leaders ‘with a lot of oomph’ as differences between the UK and EU’s position over the Withdrawal Agreement remain.
Ahead of meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday, Mr Johnson reiterated his opposition to the Northern Irish backstop, adding: ‘Don’t forget why we’re doing all of this.
‘The existing agreement just doesn’t work for the UK. And Parliament has thrown it out three times.
‘We can’t have this backstop. So I’m going to go to see our friends and partners – I’m going off to Germany and then to France, and then to see the G7 at Biarritz, and I’m going to make the point that the backstop is going to come out.’
He added: ‘I’m going to go at it very very – with a lot of oomph, as you would expect.’
It comes after Donald Tusk and other EU officials rejected and dismissed Boris Johnson’s new plea to ditch the Irish backstop just hours after he wrote to the European Council president.
The Prime Minister last night told the EU that the backstop is ‘simply unviable’ and should be replaced with a new legal commitment to avoid the return of a hard border.
Freedom of movement is to end on October 31 as Boris Johnson plans to keep out EU criminals
Rules giving EU citizens the right to enter the UK to live, work or study will be scrapped on October 31, the government announced on Monday.
Stricter rules will be introduced to make it easier to keep out EU criminals, extremists or other troublemakers from coming into the country, Downing Street said.
Theresa May had looked at extending freedom of movement to 2021 or allowing EU citizens and their families – plus those from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – to stay for three months before applying to remain for up to three years.
But the Prime Minister has insisted he is committed to honouring the referendum result by ending free movement, a key reason the country voted for Brexit in June 2016.
If negotiations with the EU collapse and the UK leaves without a deal, freedom of movement – which also gives Britons the right to live and travel freely within the EU – will end overnight on Halloween.
EU citizens with the right to permanent residence will not be affected.
The policy has been denounced by opponents as being the prelude to another Windrush scandal.
In a lengthy letter reaffirming British commitment to free travel on the island of Ireland and to the Good Friday Agreement, the Prime Minister told the outgoing EU Council President that the backstop must be removed if the UK is to sign a deal.
But Mr Tusk said today anyone opposing the backstop without a ‘realistic’ plan was actually ‘supporting the reestablishment of a border’ because there was currently no alternative.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘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 reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it.’
The dismissal of Mr Johnson’s plea was expected after briefings by diplomats in European capitals suggested his ideas would receive an icy reception in Brussels.
One EU diplomat told Politico: ‘It’s clear from the letter that renegotiation is the last thing the British government wants. Brexit started and ends with preservation of the Tory party.’
Meanwhile a French official told the website that Mr Johnson’s alternative plans were ‘a joke’.
Another EU source meanwhile told The Guardian that the letter ‘is a total moving of the goal posts on an issue of great importance and sensitivity that affects the lives of people on the island of Ireland’.
Mr Tusk responded on Twitter today, pictured, in a thinly-veiled swipe at Mr Johnson claiming anyone opposing a backstop without a ‘realistic alternative’ was actually ‘supporting’ a hard border with Ireland
Mr Tusk looked very relaxed yesterday despite the Brexit countdown after posting a picture on Instagram of him sitting on a hammock while looking after a baby and a dog
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg attended a Cabinet meeting in Whitehall today with the backstop likely on the agenda – and was met with an impassioned anti-Brexit protester
Jacob Rees-Mogg in talks with anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray outside the Cabinet Office
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met business leaders at the Business and Technology Centre in Stevenage today
Minister for Business and Energy Kwasi Kwarteng smiled as he was confronted by an anti-Brexit protester before the Cabinet meeting in Westminster today
Liz Truss talks trade with Japan yesterday and later posted this picture on social media to prove it – much to the amusement of many online who found their eyes straying to the minister’s espresso machine and her background dog snap.
What is the Irish border backstop and why do Tory MPs hate it?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the PM’s Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition if that deal is not in place.
If effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK and there can be no new trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because Britain demanded to leave the EU customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees people and goods circulating inside met EU rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains current rules, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree people and goods can freely cross the border.
Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
What concessions did Britain get in negotiating it?
During the negotiations, Britain persuaded Brussels the backstop should apply to the whole UK and not just Northern Ireland. Importantly, this prevents a customs border down the Irish Sea – even if some goods still need to be checked.
The Government said this means Britain gets many of the benefits of EU membership after transition without all of the commitments – meaning Brussels will be eager to end the backstop.
It also got promises the EU will act in ‘good faith’ during the future trade talks and use its ‘best endeavours’ to finalise a deal – promises it says can be enforced in court.
What did the legal advice say about it?
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said even with the EU promises, if a trade deal cannot be reached the backstop could last forever.
This would leave Britain stuck in a Brexit limbo, living under EU rules it had no say in writing and no way to unilaterally end it.
In his letter Mr Johnson insisted the backstop is ‘anti-democratic’, unsustainable as the basis for a long-term relationship and put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.
He wrote: ‘The problems with the backstop run much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons. The truth is that it is simply unviable.’
Instead, he said, Britain and the EU should commit to finding ‘alternative arrangements’ to manage the Irish border by the end of a transition period.
This essentially means a technology-based solution, or the so-called ‘MaxFac’ approach, to avoid a hard border.
The Prime Minister’s letter to the EU came at the start of a crunch week for Britain’s hopes of a deal with the EU.
Mr Johnson will fly to Berlin tomorrow for dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel, before heading to Paris for lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.
He will then attend a G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz at the weekend.
Last night, he clashed with Irish leader Leo Varadkar over the backstop issue for almost an hour during a telephone call.
Mr Johnson warned the Taoiseach the Brexit deal would not get through the Commons unless it was changed.
But Mr Varadkar refused, insisting the Withdrawal Agreement could not be reopened.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson said he was ‘confident’ the EU would eventually back down, but was preparing the country for No Deal in case it did not.
‘We will be ready to come out on October 31 deal or no deal,’ he said.
‘Now of course our friends and partners on the other side of the Channel are showing a little bit of reluctance at the moment to change their position. That’s fine – I’m confident that they will.’
In other developments:
- Mr Johnson rejected John McDonnell’s demand to recall Parliament from its summer break;
- The Government confirmed the UK would seize back control of its borders by ending freedom of movement rules under No Deal;
- Downing Street was accused of a ‘desperate smear’ over the blaming of former ministers for the leak of Operation Yellowhammer warnings about No Deal;
- Leaked internal planning papers suggested care homes could be forced to bring in rationing under No Deal, while schoolchildren could be fed lower quality meals;
- The Freight Transport Association called on Brexit planning chief Michael Gove to ‘come clean’ over the real risks of No Deal amid reports of possible shortfalls of fresh food, fuel and medicines.
In his letter to Mr Tusk, Mr Johnson outlined three reasons why the backstop must be ditched if there was to be any prospect of a Brexit deal before October 31.
Firstly, he warned it was ‘anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK’ as it would lock the country ‘potentially indefinitely’ into arrangements such as a customs union with the EU, and single market laws for Northern Ireland.
Secondly, he said it was ‘inconsistent with the UK’s desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU’.
Thirdly, he warned that it has ‘become increasingly clear the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied’ in the Good Friday Agreement.
‘WHY THE BACKSTOP HAS TO GO’
Letter from Boris Johnson to EU Council President Donald Tusk
Anti-democratic, inconsistent with UK sovereignty
Risks locking UK ‘indefinitely’ into customs union, puts regulatory border in Irish Sea, has no unilateral exit mechanism, applies single market rules to Northern Ireland – over which they have no say.
Not the long-term relationship we want with EU
UK intends to leave the single market and the customs union, but backstop will force country to choose between aligned to them or seeing ‘Northern Ireland gradually detached from the UK economy’.
Risks jeopardising Good Friday Agreement
Puts ‘historic compromise’ in Northern Ireland at risk by removing control of commercial and economic life to ‘an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no democratic control’.
He said that by handing control of economic regulations in Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people there had no democratic control, the agreement could be undermined.
Mr Johnson wrote: ‘For these three reasons the backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement. That is a fact we must both acknowledge.
‘I believe the task before us is to strive to find other solutions, and I believe an agreement is possible.’
He said both sides should commit to putting in place ‘alternative arrangements’ to avoid a hard border ‘as far as possible’ before the end of the transition period in December 2020.
Mr Johnson concluded: ‘Time is very short. But the UK is ready to move quickly and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise.’
Speaking earlier yesterday on a visit to Cornwall, Mr Johnson admitted his European counterparts were reluctant to compromise, but he believed they would.
‘In the meantime we have to get ready for a No Deal outcome,’ he said. ‘I want a deal. We’re ready to work with our friends and partners to get a deal but, if you want a good deal for the UK, you must simultaneously get ready to come out without one.’
Boris Johnson held talks on the phone with Donald Trump last night for the fourth time in four weeks. Downing Street said the PM updated the President on Brexit, as well as discussing economic issues.
Read Boris Johnson’s open letter to Donald Tusk in full
The date of the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU), 31 October, is fast approaching. I very much hope that we will be leaving with a deal. You have my personal commitment that this Government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority.
With that in mind, I wanted to set out our position on some key aspects of our approach, and in particular on the so-called ‘backstop’ in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Withdrawal Agreement. Before I do so, let me make three wider points.
First, Ireland is the UK’s closest neighbour, with whom we will continue to share uniquely deep ties, a land border, the Common Travel Area, and much else besides. We remain, as we have always been, committed to working with Ireland on the peace process, and to furthering Northern Ireland’s security and prosperity. We recognise the unique challenges the outcome of the referendum poses for Ireland, and want to find solutions to the border which work for all.
Second, and flowing from the first, I want to re-emphasis the commitment of this Government to peace in Northern Ireland. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, as well as being an agreement between the UK and Ireland, is a historic agreement between two traditions in Northern Ireland, and we are unconditionally committed to the spirit and letter of our obligations under it in all circumstances – whether there is a deal with the EU or not.
Third, and for the avoidance of any doubt, the UK remains committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area, to upholding the rights of the people of Northern Ireland, to ongoing North-South cooperation, and to retaining the benefits of the Single Electricity Market.
The changes we seek relate primarily to the backstop. The problems with the backstop run much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons. The truth is that it is simply unviable, for these three reasons.
First, it is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state.
The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them. That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.
Second, it is inconsistent with the UK’s desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU. When the UK leaves the EU and after any transition period, we will leave the single market and the customs union. Although we will remain committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards, the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU. That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.
The backstop is inconsistent with this ambition. By requiring continued membership of the customs union and applying many single market rules in Northern Ireland, it presents the whole of the UK with the choice of remaining in a customs union and aligned with those rules, or of seeing Northern Ireland gradually detached from the UK economy across a very broad ranges of areas. Both of those outcomes are unacceptable to the British Government.
Accordingly, as I said in Parliament on 25 July, we cannot continue to endorse the specific commitment, in paragraph 49 of the December 2017 Joint Report, to ‘full alignment’ with wide areas of the single market and the customs union. That cannot be the basis for the future relationship and it is not a basis for the sound governance of Northern Ireland.
Third, it has become increasingly clear that the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The historic compromise in Northern Ireland is based upon a carefully negotiated balance between both traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent, and respect for minority rights. While I appreciate the laudable intentions with which the backstop was designed, by removing control of such large areas of the commercial and economic life of Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no democratic control, this balance risks being undermined.
The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement neither depends upon nor requires a particular customs or regulatory regime. The broader commitments in the Agreement, including to parity of esteem, partnership, democracy and to peaceful means of resolving differences, can be be met if we explore solutions other than the backstop.
For these three reasons the backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement. That is a fact we must both acknowledge. I believe the task before us is to strive to find other solutions, and I believe an agreement is possible.
We must, first, ensure there is no return to a hard border. One of the many dividends of peace in Northern Ireland and the vast reduction of the security threat is the disappearance of a visible border. This is something to be celebrated and preserved. This Government will not put in place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We would be happy to accept a legally binding commitment to this effect and hope that the EU would do likewise.
We must also respect the aim to find ‘flexible and creative’ solutions to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. That means that alternative ways of managing the customs and regulatory differences contingent on Brexit must be explored. The reality is that there are already two separate legal, political, economic and monetary jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. This system is already administered without contention and with an open border.
The UK and the EU have already agreed that ‘alternative arrangements’ can be part of the solution. Accordingly:
– I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship.
– I also recognise that there will need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period. We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at what commitment might help, consistent of course with the principles set out in this letter.
Time is very short. But the UK is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise. I am equally confident that our Parliament would be able to act rapidly if we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement which did not contain the ‘backstop’: indeed it has already demonstrated that there is a majority for an agreement on these lines.
I believe that a solution on the lines we are proposing will be more stable, more long lasting, and more consistent with the overarching framework of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which has been decisive for peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that the EU can work energetically in this direction and for my part I am determined to do so.
I am copying this letter to the President of the European Commission and members of the European Council.
Labour’s Brexit crisis deepens after Diane Abbott vows to campaign for Remain even if her party decide on an EU withdrawal deal
Labour’s Brexit crisis deepened after Diane Abbott became the latest member of the shadow cabinet to back Remain over any deal negotiated by her own party.
The shadow home secretary said today she will be ‘personally campaigning for Remain’ regardless of whether Labour commits to staying in the EU or not.
She is the third Labour frontbencher to promise to back Remain against any Brexit deal the party agrees on.
Ms Abbott said she would campaign for Remain in a second EU referendum, insisting it is the ‘best option for the country and for my constituents’.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We are, of course… the party’s committed to a referendum now and Jeremy’s (Corbyn) made that clear, and if there is a referendum and if Remain is on the ballot paper, and there’s every expectation it will be, I – like John McDonnell – personally will be campaigning for Remain.’
Denying any party split, she claimed leader Jeremy Corbyn has ‘successfully sought to keep both sides of the party together’.
She added: ‘The party and the shadow cabinet will have to debate this and arrive at a position. Whatever the position is, Jeremy will follow what the party says.’
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott (pictured on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme) said today she will be ‘personally campaigning for Remain’ regardless of whether Labour commits to staying in the EU or not
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry have also vowed to back Remain – even against Corbyn’s ruling.
Ms Thornberry has said Labour would be ‘off our bloody rockers’ not to back Remain.
Labour’s current Brexit policy is to hold a second referendum with Remain on the ballot paper – but it falls short of trying to stay in the EU no matter what.
Mr Corbyn has demanded the Government publish its No Deal contingency plans after a leaked dossier revealed months of economic downturn, border chaos and product shortages.
Ms Abbott backed her leader and denied Labour’s position is confused, turning instead on Boris Johnson’s No Deal plans for October 31.
She said ending freedom of movement on the Halloween deadline would make the Windrush scandal ‘look like a minor blip’.
Ms Abbott told the programme: ’I think it’s going to create chaos, it’s going to be very problematic for business, but it’s going to be very difficult for EU nationals.
Ms Abbott is the third Labour frontbencher to promise to back Remain against any Brexit deal the party agrees on, after shadow chancellor John McDonnell (pictured) and Emily Thornberry
‘There are currently three million here altogether; a million have registered for settled status, there’s no possibility of two million registering between now and the 31 October, and then those EU nationals that were here but haven’t registered for settled status will be in the exact same position as the Windrush people.
‘There will be people that came here perfectly legally, but will not have the paperwork to prove that and will have all sorts of problems with employers and the NHS and so on.’
She added: ‘The way Boris is doing it is heading to a catastrophe (which) will make Windrush look like a minor blip.’
Ms Abbott further slammed the Prime Minister’s approach, adding: ‘This is typical of everything that Boris (Johnson) is doing around Brexit.
‘He makes grand announcements without thinking through the practicalities and without thinking through what the effect will be on society and business.’
Number 10 said the system allowing EU citizens to freely live and work in the UK would ‘look different’, with changes including tougher checks to prevent foreign criminals entering the country.
But Ms Abbott said she did not see how criminality could be checked once access to EU databases was lost.
Ms Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, (pictured) has said Labour would be ‘off our bloody rockers’ not to back Remain
She told Today: ‘The truth is one of the problems about leaving the EU without a deal is we will lose access to all the EU databases that the police and the security services have relied on, and we will lose it on the stroke of the end of the day on October 31st.’
Ms Abbott called for more consultation and a ‘longer and more considered transitional process’.
She said Labour’s manifesto stated that when the UK left the single market freedom of movement falls, but added that there was a need for a ‘practical process’.
She added: ‘The process that Boris is suggesting is not a practical process and will cause harm to people, it will cause harm actually to British nationals in the EU.’
A Home Office spokesman said today: ‘EU citizens and their families still have until at least December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and one million people have already been granted status.
‘Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on October 31 when the UK leaves the EU, and after Brexit the Government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from.’
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Britain will break off most contact with EU in NINE DAYS to 'focus on leaving' as Donald Tusk puts his feet up and refuses to budge after calling Boris Johnson's plan to ditch backstop 'unrealistic' have 5301 words, post on www.dailymail.co.uk at August 20, 2019. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.