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EU rejects Johnson's bid to reopen divorce deal

Jul 25 2019 19:59
Robert Hutton, Nikos Chrysoloras and Kitty Donaldson, Bloomberg

The European Union rejected Boris Johnson’s demand that the Irish border backstop should be scrapped after the United Kingdom prime minister stressed his "absolute commitment" to leaving the bloc in October.

Johnson, who hopes Brussels will rethink its refusal to renegotiate the Brexit deal struck by Theresa May, was also told that is impossible.

Juncker to Johnson: no changes to divorce deal

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Boris Johnson the Withdrawal Agreement is the “best and only agreement possible,” the Press Association cited a commission spokeswoman as saying.

The commission is available for talks with the UK over the coming weeks and to analyzing ideas from the British government for the political declaration -- the non-binding part of the deal referring to future ties -- the spokeswoman said, “providing they are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Johnson and Juncker exchanged phone numbers and agreed to stay in touch, according to the report.

Johnson to speak to EU’s Juncker

Boris Johnson will speak to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker by phone on Thursday afternoon, his office said.

Commenting on Michel Barnier’s response to Johnson’s speech (see 3:15 p.m.), Prime Minister’s Spokesman James Slack said the UK’s new strategy is at a very early stage.

“It’s day one,” Slack told reporters. “The prime minister has said that he wants a deal and he’s going to be energetic in the pursuit of that, but it’s a matter of fact that the deal has been rejected three times.”

Barnier: UK backstop demands 'unacceptable'

Chief EU Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier sent a strongly worded email to European diplomats on Thursday, referring to Boris Johnson’s appearance in the House of Commons as “combative” and saying the demand to eliminate the Irish border backstop is “unacceptable.”

Johnson’s focus on no-deal preparations is partly intended “to heap pressure on the unity of the EU27,” Barnier wrote in an email seen by Bloomberg. The EU must prepare for all scenarios, he said.

Barnier also hinted at the prospect of a snap election in the UK: “I note also the many strong reactions to the speech in the House of Commons,” he said in his message. “In this context we must follow carefully the further political and economic reactions and developments in the UK”

Varadkar doesn’t know if Johnson’s bluffing

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it isn’t clear to him if Boris Johnson is serious about his threat to quit the European Union at the end of October “come what may,” but the EU and Ireland’s position on the border backstop remains unchanged.

“Without the backstop there is no withdrawal agreement,” Varadkar said. “There’s no transition phase, there’s no implementation phase and there’ll be no free trade agreement until all those matters are resolved. I hope the new UK prime minster hasn’t chosen no-deal, but that will be up to them.”

EU ‘working assumption’ is October Brexit

The EU’s “working assumption” is that the UK will leave the bloc on Oct. 31 and it “should happen in an orderly way,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said in response to Johnson’s statement to Parliament.

The bloc is continuing its preparations for a no-deal Brexit, Andreeva said. While splitting without an agreement would cause serious disruption and have big economic consequences, they would be “proportionately much greater for the UK,” she told reporters.

The Commission “takes note” of Johnson’s decision not to nominate a Commissioner, Andreeva said, and pointed out that under EU law “the Commission is composed of one Commissioner from each member state.” As long as the UK is a member state, “it has all the rights and all the obligations of a member state,” she said.

Tory Costa warns Johnson on EU citizens’ rights

Alberto Costa, a Conservative MP who has been campaigning to secure the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, said that while Johnson’s assurances were “welcome,” he wanted to see a law passed to give citizens a guarantee -- something Johnson hasn’t promised.

“The devil is in the detail,” Costa told the BBC. The current program, he said, “is not a guarantee -- it’s not been enshrined in law.” Costa orchestrated a Tory rebellion leading to a parliamentary defeat for May over the issue earlier this year.

Johnson wants EU to rethink renegotiation refusal

Boris Johnson hopes the EU will rethink its refusal to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, his spokesman James Slack told reporters in London.

Johnson, who spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday, will be approaching talks with the bloc with “energy and enthusiasm” and will act as the UK’s chief negotiator, Slack said. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will be counterpart to the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier in talks.

Johnson will launch a publicity campaign to increase awareness of the need for No-Deal preparations.

Johnson rules out another ‘toxic’ referendum

Johnson ruled-out a second referendum, saying that holding another on Brexit would open up the possibility of another in Scotland, which might lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

Describing referendums as “deeply divisive and toxic” events, he said they should only take place “once in a generation,” and “having a second referendum would be catastrophic for our union.”

“How could we not have another referendum in Scotland if we have one on Brexit?” he asked. “It’s simply the wrong thing to do.”

Johnson won’t guarantee no-deal Commons vote

Asked by Tory defector Anna Soubry whether he’d allow Parliament to have a say on the next steps if he fails to secure a new deal on Brexit, Johnson refused to provide the yes or no answer she requested.

“This parliament has already voted several times to honor the mandate of the people to come out of the EU, and that is what we should do.,” Johnson said.

The reply won’t dispel fears among opponents of a no-deal Brexit that Johnson may attempt to bypass the House of Commons if he can’t agree a new deal with the EU.

Letwin offers support for a Brexit deal

Oliver Letwin, one of the former Conservative ministers who have been doing their best to block a no-deal Brexit, reminded Johnson that he and many of his co-conspirators are ready to vote to leave the EU with an agreement.

“There lies within this House I believe still a possible majority in favor of almost any sensible arrangement,” Letwin said. Johnson was warm in response: “I share his desire not to get to a no-deal outcome.”

DUP’s Dodds praises Johnson’s optimism

Nigel Dodds, Westminster leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, welcomed Johnson’s “positivity, his optimism” and urged him to “strain every sinew” to both deliver Brexit and restore devolved government to Northern Ireland.

The relationship with the DUP is critical for Johnson’s Conservatives because their Parliamentary majority depends on the Northern Irish Party. Dodds pointed to this, with a suggestion DUP support isn’t guaranteed: “We look forward to further conversations in the coming weeks to ensure that we can have a sustainable Conservative and Unionist government going forward,” he said.

That may involve spending commitments to Northern Ireland as well as delivering Brexit.

Johnson drops another election hint

Boris Johnson, answering a question from Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford, dropped another hint that his mind is on an election. “If we can deliver a fantastic and a sensible and a progressive Brexit, which I believe we can, and the whole UK comes out as I know that it will, what happens then to the arguments of the SNP?” he asked.

He then suggested that if the SNP campaigned for an independent Scotland to re-enter the EU, it would be signing up to joining the Euro and giving up control of its fishing grounds.

“That is not the basis on which to seek election in Scotland,” Johnson said. “We will win on a manifesto for the whole UK”

The entire exchange suggests Johnson’s preferred option is to hold an election after delivering a successful Brexit. But talk of election manifestos suggests the direction of his thinking.

Johnson bombards Corbyn to Tory delight

The new Tory leader’s first appearance in the House of Commons as prime minister showed why the party picked him: to take on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour with gusto.

Johnson savaged the opposition leader and his finance spokesman John McDonnell in the kind of ferocious attack Theresa May never delivered in her three years in power.

He said Corbyn had flip-flopped on Brexit and was now “a Remainer” and provoked McDonnell to rise from his seat, wave him away and pour himself a glass of water from the table in the middle of the Commons chamber.

Tory MPs loved it, roaring their approval as Johnson finished his verbal assault, claiming he now led the real “people’s party.”

NHS is ‘not for sale,’ Johnson says

In answer to a question from Jeremy Corbyn about a future trade deal with the U.S., Johnson ruled out including the state-funded National Health Service. “It’s not for sale,” he told MPs.

Corbyn criticizes Johnson’s Trump links

Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked Johnson for his links to Donald Trump, using the U.S. President’s own words to call the new premier “Britain Trump.” He urged Johnson to rule out including the UK’s National Health Service in any trade deal with the U.S.

Other criticisms surrounded the support for the death penalty expressed by the new home secretary, Priti Patel, and Johnson’s infamous “f*** business” remark to a European ambassador. On Brexit, Corbyn said if Johnson is confident in his plan, he should put it to a public vote.

“Labour will oppose any deal that fails to protect jobs, workers’ rights or environmental protections,” Corbyn said. ”And if he has the confidence to put that decision back to the people, we will campaign to Remain,” Corbyn added, reiterating the current Labour line on a second referendum.

Johnson: national spirit makes no-deal possible

Boris Johnson sought to establish the idea that preparing for a no-deal Brexit should be a national effort to reduce disruption. “I believe that is possible with the kind of national effort that the British people have made before and will make again,” he said.

Although he didn’t specify when the British people had made such efforts before, many on the Tory benches will have taken it as an invocation of World War II, a key historical moment for many backers of Brexit.

Johnson calls for turbo-charged no-deal plans

Johnson said he has instructed his Cabinet to ramp up preparations for leaving the European Union, telling the House of Commons he’s instructed Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid to make available “all necessary funding.”

Michael Gove, who runs machinery of government, will make no-deal preparedness his “top priority,” Johnson said.

“In the 98 days that remain to us, we must turbo-charge our preparations to make sure that there is as little disruption as possible to our national life,” Johnson said.

Arms waving, Johnson rallies Tories

Johnson’s arrival was greeted in the Commons by cheers from his own side. His style could not be more different from Theresa May’s.

At the dispatch box, he waved his arms for emphasis, pausing his statement during the key passage on Brexit for effect.

On the government front bench behind him, sat Johnson’s new Cabinet. Home Secretary Priti Patel and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid were in prominent places.

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