Boris Johnson Seeks To Secure Tweaks to Brexit Agreement

  • Jun 17, 2019 BST
  • Team Kalkine
Boris Johnson Seeks To Secure Tweaks to Brexit Agreement

The European Union has consistently held its position that the deal agreed between the bloc and acting Prime Minister Theresa May is not renegotiable, meaning the Irish backstop cannot be removed or changed. Moreover, to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the EU has insisted on the backstop plan as the only way to ensure the same and see it as the legal underpinning of both sides' commitment to the deal. However, Eurosceptic Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to become the UK's next prime minister, does not see the situation in the same way and has proposed a solution to replace the controversial backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.

According to Mr Johnson, the hard border can be avoided with technology-based arrangements, which had many experts sceptical as this was previously tried by Mrs May and it got nowhere. On Friday, even Johnson, the former Mayor of London, admitted that proposed solution to the current Brexit impasse would be regarded as a unicorn in the EU capital and to many MPs at home.

The controversial backstop, which was a major sticking point during the Brexit negotiations, and continues to roil the British politics, is a temporary insurance policy - designed to avoid a hard border under all circumstances between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Many opponents of the deal had rejected Theresa May's Brexit deal, saying that they had doubts whether the arrangement would only ever be temporary and had sought alternative arrangements to avoid the need for a backstop in the first place.

Many have started wondering whether some modest changes to Britain's Brexit package could be provided to the new prime minister by the European Union. Notably, many are hopeful that the 585-page Draft Withdrawal Agreement, the draft political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, could see some tweaks to sweeten the current deal. However, Jeremy Hunt, another leadership contender and foreign secretary, insisted on Sunday that he had been told by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, that they are prepared to look at the whole package and review future relationship so that backstop wouldn't be required. He further added that they're willing to look at the Brexit deal again with changes if they are approached with the right British Prime Minister. Since Mrs May's last ill-fated attempt to get her Brexit deal rectified on March 29, the mood at Westminster has shifted somewhat, and many fears that lawmakers might grab at any concession as an excuse to ratify the deal, as they are desperate to settle Brexit.

Both the mainstream parties got a rude, but not unexpected, shocking in the latest elections for the European Elections. According to Mr Hunt, for the Tories to hold an election until Brexit is delivered would be political suicide, and most Tory MPs agree with him on this. Equally, fearing that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, would be forced by his pro-European party MPs and activists to back a second EU referendum, some Labour MPs in Leave seats in northern England want to secure Brexit before that happens. During the party's attempt, last week, to seize control of the Commons order paper to stop a no-deal exit, the party faced resistance from Eight MPs who voted against this attempt.

To underline the determination to find an alternative to it once the exit deal has been ratified, the European Union has already offered Mrs May a legal instrument to try to ease concerns about the backstop, European Council conclusions, a joint statement and solemn letters. One EU official said that it would be hard for the bloc to find even a diplomatic fig leaf to assist the incoming British prime minister as they had done everything in their capacity, and it would not be easy to find more to soothe the tensions.

One idea in circulation is to effectively reframe commitments given to Mrs May to proceed speedily and hold regular summits, including on technology-based alternatives to the backstop could be taken forward and provide a more definite timetable for how talks on a comprehensive future relationship would go ahead. Offering the possibility for a new prime minister to try to reshape the future EU-UK relationship on their own terms, by amending the political declaration, is another option available to both the parties, but the success of this would be limited as it would be a non-binding agreement. A tweaked political declaration might allow the future president to clarify that the country was seeking a Canada or Norway-style trade deal with the EU coupled with an invisible Irish border. Ideas such as an exit clause or a time limit remain entirely off the table in Brussels and any change does not change the fact that the current backstop would be in force until another solution could be agreed upon to prevent a hard Irish border.

Last week, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said that the exit treat must be respected by whoever is the next British prime minister as it is a treaty between the UK and the EU and not an agreement between Theresa May and Juncker. One EU told a newspaper that the bloc would stick by its smaller members, in this case, Ireland, as the integrity of the single market was placed at stake and yielding on that point of principle threatened, damaging the EU for years to come.

The suggestions from Tory leadership contenders that the new prime minister will get an alternative to the backstop and superior terms from Brussels are quickly dismissed by Ireland and sees such demands as further proof of the need for an all-weather backstop to avoid checks on the frontier no matter who is in power. Many contenders quite boastfully claim that once they take office, they can secure new solutions to the border question.

Boris Johnson has won the endorsement of Matt Hancock, the health secretary who dropped out of the Conservative leadership race on Friday after finishing sixth out of 10 candidates with 20 supporters, despite pushing for a no-deal Brexit and campaigning on a modernising ticket. Hancock urged MPs to unite behind Johnson as soon as possible and said that it was evident Johnson was likely to win, and Johnson had given him assurances that he would govern as a consensual, one-nation Conservative.

On Sunday, the first televised debate between politicians who are running for British prime minister was held and the highlights of the debate were Brexit and Boris Johnson. The five Conservative Party contenders in attendance spent most of their 90 minutes talking about Brexit and also took a dig at Mr Johnson who did not show up for the debate; he was represented at the debate by an empty lectern. Jeremy Hunt questioned how he would possibly handle the leaders of the European Union and the wily negotiators in Brussels if he could not handle debating with five friendly colleagues.

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