No deal gets real

●Down­ing Street briefs agree­ment is ‘es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble’ af­ter Merkel call with John­son ● Scot­tish Govern­ment re­veals plans for huge lorry park at Stran­raer to cope with dis­rup­tion ● Tony Blair warns Labour not to gam­ble with the union to win power

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

Brexit talks are on the brink of col­lapse af­ter Down­ing Street briefed that a deal is “es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble, not just now but ever”, prompt­ing se­nior EU fig­ures to ac­cuse Boris John­son of play­ing a “stupid blame game”.

Three weeks un­til Brexit day and a week be­fore a cru­cial Brus­sels sum­mit to sign off any new deal, re­la­tions be­tween the UK and the EU hit a new low with a se­ries of hos­tile anony­mous brief­ings from Num­ber 10.

Last night, emerg­ing from 45 min­utes of talks with the Prime Min­is­ter, the pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment, David Sas­soli, said that with­out an un­likely break­through, there were “only two op­tions: an ex­ten­sion or no deal”.

The bit­ter war of words came as the UK govern­ment claimed the coun­try was now ready for a no-deal Brexit at the same time as the Scot­tish Govern­ment set out plans for a huge new lorry park at Stran­raer to pre­pare for bot­tle­necks in trade across the Irish Sea.

And for­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Blair un­der­lined the risk to the Union

from a no-deal Brexit, say­ing it would pro­vide a “whole ad­di­tional di­men­sion to the ar­gu­ment for in­de­pen­dence” and warn­ing Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn that it would be a “ma­jor cat­e­gory er­ror” to grant per­mis­sion for a se­cond ref­er­en­dum on Scot­land’s fu­ture in ex­change for SNP sup­port.

Par­lia­ment was pro­rogued last night to al­low a Queen’s Speech to take place on Mon­day, with a vote on the govern­ment’s pro­gramme likely to be de­feated within a fort­night, adding to pres­sure for a snap elec­tion.

Fol­low­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Mr John­son and An­gela Merkel yes­ter­day morn­ing, a source was quoted claim­ing that the Chan­cel­lor told the Prime Min­is­ter that “the UK can­not leave [the EU] with­out leav­ing North­ern Ire­land be­hind in a cus­toms union and in full align­ment for­ever”.

Brief­ing jour­nal­ists on the 30 minute call, a Down­ing Street source was quoted as say­ing: “The call with Merkel showed the EU has adopted a new po­si­tion. She made clear a deal is over­whelm­ingly un­likely and she thinks the EU has a veto on us leav­ing the cus­toms union.”

They added: “Merkel said that the PM should tell North­ern Ire­land that it must stay in full align­ment for­ever, but that even this would not elim­i­nate cus­toms is­sues.

“It was a very use­ful clar­i­fy­ing mo­ment in all sorts of ways. If this rep­re­sents a new es­tab­lished po­si­tion, then it means a deal is es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble not just now but ever. It also made clear that they are will­ing to tor­pedo the Good Fri­day Agree­ment.”

The com­ments pro­voked anger from op­po­si­tion par­ties and in Brus­sels, where the EU Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk re­sponded by tweet­ing: “Boris John­son, what’s at stake is not win­ning some stupid blame game. At stake is the fu­ture of Europe and the UK as well as the se­cu­rity and in­ter­ests of our peo­ple.”

Us­ing the Latin phrase for “where are you go­ing”, He added: “You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an ex­ten­sion, you don’t want to re­voke, quo vadis?”

The Prime Min­is­ter’s spokesman said the two lead­ers had a “frank ex­change”, and con­firmed that Mr John­son had ruled out North­ern Ire­land re­main­ing un­der the EU cus­toms regime, but did not com­ment on Ms Merkel’s re­marks.

In Ber­lin, a Ger­man govern­ment spokesper­son said: “We do not re­port such con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions.”

On Mon­day night, in a lengthy com­ment to the Spec­ta­tor mag­a­zine on the govern­ment’s strat­egy, a Down­ing Street source struck an even harsher tone, sug­gest­ing EU mem­bers that per­mit any de­lay to Brexit would be pun­ished – in­clud­ing through the pos­si­ble with­drawal of se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion.

“We will make clear pri­vately and pub­licly that coun­tries which op­pose de­lay will go the front of the queue for fu­ture co-op­er­a­tion – co-op­er­a­tion on things both within and out­side EU com­pe­tences,” the source said. “Those who sup­port­de­lay­will­go­tothe­bot­tom of the queue.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Spec­ta­tor, the source “also made clear that de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion will in­evitably be af­fected if the EU tries to keep Bri­tain in against the will of its govern­ment”.

It was widely spec­u­lated that both com­ments orig­i­nated with Do­minic Cum­mings, the Prime Min­is­ter’s se­nior ad­viser and ar­chi­tect of the govern­ment’s ag­gres­sive ap­proach.

The threat brought a protest from North­ern Ire­land Sec­re­tary Ju­lian Smith, who tweeted: “Any threat on with­draw­ing se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion with Ire­land is un­ac­cept­able. This is not in the in­ter­est of [North­ern Ire­land] or the Union.”

Yes­ter­day Mr John­son spoke to Irish Prime Min­is­ter Leo Varad­kar by phone for 40 min­utes, with a Down­ing Street spokesper­son say­ing both lead­ers “re­it­er­ated their de­sire to reach a Brexit deal”.

In what could be the last chance to sal­vage an agree­ment, the pair meet for face to face talks to­mor­row or Fri­day.

EU lead­ers have given the UK lit­tle hope that a new set of pro­pos­als for the Irish bor­der that amount to cre­at­ing two trade fron­tiers for North­ern Ire­land – a cus­toms bor­der with the Repub­lic, and a reg­u­la­tory bor­der with the rest of the UK – will be ac­cepted ahead of the last-chance sum­mit in Brus­sels on 17 Oc­to­ber.

The Irish govern­ment has said the plans are not the ba­sis for a deal, and re­ports on Mon­day night sug­gested EU chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier had briefed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the 27 mem­ber states on a se­ries of prob­lems with the UK of­fer.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties ac­cused the govern­ment of try­ing to de­lib­er­ately col­lapse Brexit talks. First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon tweeted: “The UK govern­ment’s at­tempts to shift the blame for the Brexit fi­asco to any­one but them­selves – to­day it’s Merkel – is pa­thet­i­cally trans­par­ent.”

And Labour’s shadow Brexit sec­re­tary Keir Starmer tweeted: “This is yet an­other cyn­i­cal at­tempt by Num­ber 10 to sab­o­tage the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Boris John­son will never take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his own fail­ure to put for­ward a cred­i­ble deal. His strat­egy from day one has been for a no deal Brexit.

“It is now more im­por­tant than ever that Par­lia­ment unites to pre­vent this reck­less govern­ment crash­ing us out of the EU.”

Court of Ses­sion urged to pre­pare let­ter to the EU ask­ing for Ar­ti­cle 50 ex­ten­sion

Cam­paign­ers called upon the Court of Ses­sion yes­ter­day to use an ex­tra­or­di­nary le­gal power to pre­pare a let­ter re­quest­ing a Brexit ex­ten­sion in case Boris John­son tries to cir­cum­vent the terms of the Benn Act.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing SNP jus­tice spokes­woman Joanna Cherry, Jo Maugham QC and busi­ness­man Dale Vince, ar­gued the Prime Min­is­ter could not be trusted to stick to the terms of leg­is­la­tion passed by op­po­si­tion MPS last month.

The trio want Scot­land’s high­est civil court to use its power of no­bile of­fi­cium to send a let­ter re­quest­ing an ex­ten­sion if no deal has been reached with the EU by 19 Oc­to­ber.

The rarely-used power al­lows judges to take ac­tion to en­sure a le­gal re­quire­ment

is up­held if the of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble fails to do so.

Ai­dan O’neill QC, for the pe­ti­tion­ers, said Mr John­son and his po­lit­i­cal al­lies had re­peat­edly in­di­cated they would try to get around the terms of the Benn Act to en­sure the UK left the EU by a dead­line of 31 Oc­to­ber.

He said: “This is pol­i­tics be­ing used to sub­vert the rule of law. Say­ing one thing in court and an­other in pub­lic.”

He con­tin­ued: “One should not be taken in by any of kind schtick that the Prime Min­is­ter is sim­ply an over­grown schoolboy play­ing at be­ing prime min­is­ter, as if he was Just Wil­liam lead­ing his cab­i­net band of out­laws.

“This is se­ri­ous stuff. This is cal­cu­lated. This is de­lib­er­ately fo­cus-grouped, work­shopped and wargamed to ap­peal to their base.”

But An­drew Web­ster QC, for the UK govern­ment, said as­sur­ances al­ready given to the court car­ried “sig­nif­i­cant weight”.

It was re­vealed in court pa­pers made pub­lic last week that Mr John­son ac­cepted the terms of the Benn Act. Mr Web­ster added that “no weight” should be given to unattribut­ed state­ments made to sev­eral news­pa­pers in re­cent days about the Prime Min­is­ter’s in­ten­tions.

Mr O’neill told the court that send­ing a let­ter on be­half of the Prime Min­is­ter was un­prece­dented, “but these are un­prece­dented times”.

Lord Car­loway, sit­ting with Lord Drum­mond Young and Lord Brodie in the In­ner House of the court, said a de­ci­sion on the no­bile of­fi­cium would be made at 11am to­day. One op­tion open to the court is to con­tinue the case un­til af­ter the 19 Oc­to­ber dead­line to en­sure the Benn Act is ob­served.

The judges will also rule at the same time on an ap­peal lodged against Lord Pent­land’s rul­ing on Mon­day, which dis­missed a pe­ti­tion aimed at forc­ing the Prime Min­is­ter to re­quest a Brexit ex­ten­sion if no deal is se­cured with the EU by 19 Oc­to­ber. Lord Pent­land ruled it was not nec­es­sary to com­pel Mr John­son to com­ply with the terms of the so-called Benn Act given the “un­equiv­o­cal as­sur­ances” of the govern­ment.

Mr Maugham said: “The court is un­der­stand­ably con­cerned to avoid a clash be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and the rule of law.

0 An­gela Merkel and Boris John­son have rarely seen eye to eye...No 10’s de­ci­sion to blame the Ger­man Chan­cel­lor for the ap­par­ent fail­ure of Brexit talks will not make the re­la­tion­ship any eas­ier

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