Over to EU on John­son’s deal or no deal gam­ble

● Brus­sels vows to ‘ex­am­ine pro­pos­als closely’ but says ‘prob­lem­atic points’ re­main ● Stur­geon says new plans are ‘de­signed to fail’ and still un­ac­cept­able to Scot­land

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By PARIS GOURT­SOY­AN­NIS West­min­ster Cor­re­spon­dent

Boris John­son is closer than ever be­fore to get­ting a Brexit deal past MPS af­ter his plan for the Ir­ish bor­der won the sup­port of the DUP, Tory Euroscep­tics and a pair of Labour MPS – but the pro­pos­als now face a dif­fi­cult ex­am­i­na­tion in Brus­sels.

Re­sis­tance from the fi­nal 28 Brex­i­teer “Spar­tans” who re­jected Theresa May’s Brexit deal three times ap­peared to be crum­bling last night, leav­ing Mr John­son just a hand­ful of votes short of a ma­jor­ity.

In a let­ter to EU Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-claude Juncker, the Prime Min­is­ter said he was of­fer­ing a “fair and rea­son­able com­pro­mise” and said his plan to re­place the con­tro­ver­sial back­stop rep­re­sented a “broad land­ing zone, in which I be­lieve a deal can be­gin

to take shape”. In a state­ment, the EU Com­mis­sion wel­comed what it called “pos­i­tive ad­vances”, but said “prob­lem­atic points” re­main.

“The del­i­cate bal­ance struck by the Good Fri­day agree­ment must be pre­served,” the state­ment said.

The Ir­ish prime min­is­ter, Leo Varad­kar, was even more down­beat, with a spokesman for the Taoiseach say­ing the plans “do not fully meet the agreed ob­jec­tives of the back­stop”.

The Prime Min­is­ter spoke by phone last night with Mr Juncker and Mr Varad­kar, as well as Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

EU gov­ern­ments will con­sider the plans ahead of a cru­cial Brus­sels sum­mit that be­gins on 17 Oc­to­ber, where an agree­ment must be rub­ber stamped to avoid the pos­si­bil­ity of a nodeal sce­nario at the end of the month. Un­der the pro­pos­als, North­ern Ire­land would ef­fec­tively re­main un­der both UK and EU trade rules at least four years, with cus­toms checks on goods cross­ing the bor­der with the Repub­lic of Ire­land, and reg­u­la­tory con­trols for those ar­riv­ing from Britain.

The regime en­ters into force at the end of the post-brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod, at the start of 2021, but would first need to be ap­proved by the North­ern Ir­ish Assem­bly, which would also de­cide whether to re­new the ar­range­ments ev­ery four years.

An ex­plana­tory note pub­lished along­side the pro­pos­als states that “if con­sent is with­held,thear­range­mentswill­not en­ter into force or will lapse”.

The Stor­mont Assem­bly has not sat since de­volved power shar­ing be­tween the DUP and Sinn Fein col­lapsed in 2017, but the po­ten­tial for North­ern Ir­ish par­ties to veto the mea­sures will be a source of con­cern in Dublin and Brus­sels.

That was high­lighted in the EU state­ment, which said Mr Juncker “noted that there are still some prob­lem­atic points that will need fur­ther work in the com­ing days, no­tably with re­gards to the gov­er­nance of the back­stop”.

Sinn Fein and the other main North­ern Ir­ish par­ties re­jected Mr John­son’s com­pro­mise. But de­spite ap­pear­ing to breach the DUP’S pre­vi­ous red line on a bar­rier to trade be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Great Britain, the party gave the plan its sup­port.

“We be­lieve this is a se­ri­ous and sen­si­ble way for­ward to have en­gage­ment with the Eu­ro­pean Union in a way that al­lows us all in the United King­dom to leave the Eu­ro­pean Union and there­fore we will be sup­port­ing this plan,” DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter said.

And the chair­man of the Eu­ro­pean Re­search Group of Tory Brex­i­teers, Steve Baker, sig­nalled his ap­proval with a tweet at the close of his party’s con­fer­ence in Manch­ester that Mr John­son was a “hero”.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties re­jected the govern­ment’s pro­pos­als for the Ir­ish bor­der, with First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon tweet­ing that it was “hard to es­cape [the] con­clu­sion that they’re de­signed to fail”.

And Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn said the plan would “un­der­mine the Good Fri­day agree­ment”. “It’s worse than Theresa May’s deal,” he said. “I can’t see it get­ting the sup­port that he thinks it will get.”

But two Labour MPS rep­re­sent­ing con­stituen­cies in Leave-vot­ing Stoke – Ruth Smeeth and Gareth Snell – in­di­cated they would back a Brexit deal based on the plans.

Last night the EU chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier told jour­nal­ists: “There is progress. But to be frank, a lot of work still needs to be done to reach, to ful­fil, the three ob­jec­tives of the back­stop – no bor­der, al­lire­land econ­omy, and pro­tect­ing the sin­gle mar­ket.

“The no-deal will never be the choice of the EU. Never. So we will con­tinue to reach a deal and to work with the UK team.”

This Tory gath­er­ing has been all about John­son -it’shis party now

There was a spon­ta­neous chant of ‘Boris!’ be­fore he even en­tered the con­fer­ence hall. Mo­ments ear­lier, there was even a vaguely Trumpian ova­tion to his fa­ther, Stan­ley - con­firm­ing he is the most colour­ful John­son in a red cor­duroy jacket - and the is-she-isn’t-she first Lady of the UK, Car­rie Sy­monds. And in a speech with­out a sin­gle pol­icy an­nounce­ment, the big re­veal was to do with the only John­son we haven’t heard from: his mother. “She voted Leave!” the Prime Min­is­ter bel­lowed.

This con­fer­ence has been all about Boris John­son, and the only thing Boris John­son has to say: get Brexit done. Even that sim­ple three-word mantra has strug­gled to be heard at times, what with

Sketch

Paris Gourt­soy­an­nis

the talk of spaffing, thigh­grop­ing and lunchtime ‘tech­nol­ogy les­sons’ with friends. At the fi­nal be­fore the Prime Min­is­ter’s speech, on get­ting more women elected, the com­ment from MP Gil­lian Kee­gan that “pol­i­tics is a con­tact sport” felt risky.

The speech it­self was a bizarrely sub­dued af­fair, with no sense of drama or oc­ca­sion. The dodgy jokes about SNP lead­ers’ names sound­ing like fish and the shout-outs to the Cab­i­net in the front row gave it the at­mos­phere of a cruise ship com­edy set. But there was no sense of dis­ap­point­ment in the crowd – they loved it.

John­son’s cult of per­son­al­ity has taken over this party, and the only one putting up a fight was MP Ge­of­frey Clifton-brown. A mem­ber of the Con­ser­va­tive board be­ing thrown out of his own con­fer­ence 45 min­utes be­fore the Home Sec­re­tary de­clared they were the party of law and or­der sums up how im­pos­si­ble it has been for Tories to get away from their own dys­func­tion.

Wan­der­ing around Manch­ester were Brexit out­rid­ers you could never have imag­ined at a Tory con­fer­ence un­der David Cameron – to be fair, though, their leader Do­minic Cum­mings, a man with an ac­tual ha­tred of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, is run­ning the coun­try.

This year’s Con­ser­va­tive con­fer­ence re­sem­bled re­cent Labour gath­er­ings in that the party’s own MPS didn’t re­ally want to be there. One of the few who turned up, An­drew Bowie, was sur­gi­cally at­tached to a mi­cro­phone to do ev­ery broad­cast.

Ex­actly a year ago, se­nior Scot­tish Tories were brief­ing that ‘Op­er­a­tion Arse’ would work in the shad­ows to block John­son from walk­ing into Down­ing Street.

The story was il­lus­trated on the front of The Scots­man with a pic­ture of a smil­ing Ruth David­son strid­ing across the con­fer­ence stage. She’s gone, her stand against a no-deal Brexit has been de­mol­ished, and un­der John­son, her party is un­recog­nis­able. “We will hon­our your legacy,” the Prime Min­is­ter said in his speech. He must mean lay­ing flow­ers on its grave.

0 Boris John­son with his part­ner Car­rie Sy­monds af­ter de­liv­er­ing his key­note speech to del­e­gates on the fi­nal day of the an­nual Con­ser­va­tive Party con­fer­ence

0 An up­beat Prime Min­is­ter ad­dresses the party faith­ful at the Con­ser­va­tive con­fer­ence in Manch­ester yes­ter­day as his plan for a deal to solve the Brexit im­passe re­ceived a mixed wel­come

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