Brexit proposals to be revealed tomorrow

Johnson set to unveil final Brexit proposals, but chances of a deal appear bleak

By Daniel Capurro, Front Bench Editor
This conference was always going to be a distraction. Indeed, so certain was Downing Street that it wouldn’t go ahead and that we would be in the middle of an election campaign right now, that it launched all of its biggest policies weeks ago.

That’s led to a slightly odd event, but, as Peter Foster reveals this morning, tomorrow should see the biggest announcement of all – the Government’s plans for the Irish border.

– Leaving it to the last minute –

Britain’s negotiators have been avoiding giving their European counterparts any detailed proposals for weeks, but the assumption was that the detailed proposals would come after this conference.

They may now arrive during, if Boris Johnson goes ahead with the idea of announcing them in his big speech.

Peter has some of the details of the plans, of which one element is getting the most attention: the intention to ask the EU to rule out any further extensions as part of the deal. That would force Parliament into a deal or no-deal vote, completely changing the calculus in the Chamber.

If the EU went along with that, it would be a huge moment and very hard for rebels to reject. Yet everyone is getting rather ahead of themselves here. Because, from the details of the plan we know so far, it’s almost certainly not going to work.

– Two years in, still the same problems –

Johnson and his negotiators are abandoning Theresa May’s promise of no new border infrastructure. While agreeing to an Irish Sea border for plants and animal goods and regulatory checks, they want a “high-tech” customs border in Ireland, set five to 10 miles back from the frontier. That would require more physical installations than under any previous UK proposal, including “MaxFac” (for those with long memories).

That’s an issue for two reasons. One, the EU and Dublin are adamant they won’t accept that level of border checks (and politically, no deal becomes the least bad option for Leo Varadkar). Two, it’s very difficult to separate regulatory checks from customs checks, and so Brussels doubts the workability of such a plan.

With the backstop as the EU wants it unacceptable in No10 and for a majority in Westminster, and this being the final, final gambit, that rather scuppers any hope of a Brexit deal.

Whether that comes as a surprise or not, I’ll leave you to decide.

– Nothing is ever accidental –

But, of course, that doesn’t mark the end of the story. The “People vs Parliament” election strategy is now very well documented, but the other half of that plan is often overlooked.

Johnson needs the EU to be a villain too. Something that’s best achieved by having them reject apparently reasonable proposals.

Meanwhile, Johnson is still thrashing against the constraints placed on him by Parliament, although The Times reports that several ministers see no way out of it for him other than a Brexit deal.

There was also a hope that those MPs who bound his hands in the first place would be spooked by talk of getting around the extension law and then trigger a vote of no confidence or even an election.

Yet, despite still disagreeing on many things, the Opposition parties and rebel Tories have held their discipline this week and continued to deny Johnson what he wants.

Rather than asking how the PM can get out of this mess, it’s probably time to start questioning how damaging, if at all, being forced to extend will be.

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