No ‘Artificial' Deadlines
The British government has shrugged off a newly-imposed EU ultimatum of 30 September for a new deal and a blueprint for an Irish backstop alternative, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks forward to "10 intensive days" in the run-up to a crucial EU summit.
A No. 10 spokesman said Johnson would produce his proposals “when we are ready, not according to an artificial deadline” set by the prime minister of Finland, the country that currently holds the rotating EU presidency, after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. The pair concluded that in the event of no deal proposals in black and white by the end of September, it all "would be over".
Retorting in style, the UK spokesman insisted there was no point in outlining Irish border alternatives until “the EU is clear that it will engage constructively on them as a replacement for the backstop".
‘Awful Lot of People Need to Jump at the Same Time’
In the meantime, Boris Johnson is apparently seeking a constructive dialogue at home, not preparing to voice his proposals until the end of the Tories’ annual 4-day conference in Manchester, slated for 29 September-2 October this year. According to a senior aide close to the PM, cited by The Sun, the plan implies there will be two breakneck weeks, the short time lapse between the Conservatives’ gathering and the much-awaited EU summit, for squeezing in the UK’s blueprints.
“There will be 10 or 11 intensive days after October 2. We will know by the start of the summit week whether there’s a deal to be done or not", the source stated, further resorting to a more figurative way of explaining the odds:
“Everyone needs to jump at the same time during that period, and there are an awful lot of different people who need to jump", he said, warning:
“Until then, it’s all basically just shadow boxing".
Juncker: ’Can Have a Deal’ as ‘I Don’t Have Erotic Relation to the Backstop’
Meanwhile, positive vibrations vis-a-vis Brexit deal negotiations have not only made themselves obvious, but have been noticed by both sides:
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker declared for the first time that he sees nothing wrong in scrapping the Irish backstop, which was a pivotal point in former PM Theresa May’s Brexit proposal and which Johnson now wants to get rid of.
Having met the prime minister for a "very positive" luncheon in Luxembourg on Monday, Juncker later told Sky News that "we can have a deal", with the Brexit deadline having been set by the UK government for Halloween, 31 October.
“I don’t know. But I’m doing everything to have a deal, because I don’t like the idea of a no deal", the EU Commission president replied when asked if the chances were 50/50.
Speaking about alternative arrangements for the backstop, until recently the stumbling block in the talks, he quipped he "doesn’t have an erotic relation to the backstop":
“If the results are there, I don’t care about the instrument. If the objectives are met – all of them – then we don’t need the backstop".
Breaking the Ice
Ireland’s leader, who is by definition a signatory to a potential deal, also said “the mood music is good”.
After meeting DUP boss Arlene Foster in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar shared his most positive expectations since the Brexit talks saw a new twist under the new prime minister:
“The rhetoric has tempered. There is a lot of energy and a lot of positivity", he noted, admitting though "the gaps are still very wide":
“The difficulty is that when it comes to the substance of the issue that needs to be resolved", he added.
Varadkar and Johnson are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next week for new talks.
Johnson, for his part, also broke the silence on how he feels about the current progress:
“I don’t want to exaggerate the progress we are making, but we are making progress", he said when on a visit to Salisbury Plain to inspect troops stationed there.
A “way forward” on the Irish backstop is possible and “we can solve that problem”, he added, while reports emerged of Britain having started sending in respective papers to Brussels.
Supreme Court Battle Over Lawmakers’ Prorogation
This week the UK's Supreme Court has been hearing cases against the government, with campaigners saying the suspension is illegal and is meant to stifle opposition to Johnson’s Brexit, his key pledge during July’s leadership race.
The three-day hearing ended on Thursday after lawyers for campaigners and the government summed up their arguments. The government’s defence hit back at the campaigners’ claims, arguing it was first of all, a regular and normal procedure for paving the way for a Queen’s Speech on legislation, and second, that prorogation is a political instrument and is not to be decided in courts.
A verdict over whether the UK government decision to prorogue — or suspend — Parliament for five weeks, with MPs expected to be back at work no sooner than 14 October, was lawful is due early next week.