- Sources close to the Prime Minister say that Johnson wants to reach an agreement at the meeting, but it is clear that the end of this process is October 31.
- If no agreement is reached as of October 19, he intends to reject an extension offer if it arrives.
- David Gauke said an alternative to the EU-backstop arrangement, which Ireland insists on, should be offered in order to reach an agreement.
The debate in the UK was re-heated when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today that he would tell European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that he wants to reach an agreement on Brexit, but he does not intend to postpone the October 31 deadline for Brexit. Political commentators began to ask whether Johnson’s remarks meant that he would not recognize the law adopted by Parliament. Last week, the Parliament passed a law asking Johnson to postpone Brexit for three months if an agreement could not be reached by October 19th.
The Prime Minister’s meeting was also attended by chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, Brexit Minister Steve Barclay, and Johnson’s chief negotiator, David Frost. Sources close to the Prime Minister say that Johnson wants to reach an agreement at the meeting, but it is clear that the end of this process is October 31.
The Prime Minister, speaking to journalists, said that it would be a big mistake to ask for a new extension because the extension means a prolonged process of division, debate, and uncertainty. That is why the Prime Minister will emphasize that he wants an agreement, but his goal is to reach an agreement on October 31. If no agreement is reached as of October 19, he intends to reject an extension offer if it arrives. These statements sparked speculation that the Prime Minister was preparing for separation, not the agreement.
Former cabinet minister (and former Conservative) David Gauke said an alternative to the EU-backstop arrangement, which Ireland insists on, should be offered in order to reach an agreement, but the government has no such detailed plan. The island of Ireland is divided between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union.
Currently, both sides of the island are within the EU, and people and goods pass freely. The two sides of the island are intertwined economically, socially and culturally, across a border which has been open for years. If Britain leaves the EU, however, and Northern Ireland with it, will this border remain open? The issue of how to arrange this border after separation is a big problem between the two sides.
According to some commentators, the closure of the border is a violation of the Northern Ireland peace agreement signed in 1998, and may even lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom. The closure of the border is expected to have a serious impact on both sides’ economies and social life.
The draft agreement reached with the EU during Theresa May’s premiership solved this problem with a temporary “backstop.” This means that there will be no physical boundary between the north and south of the island, until a better arrangement is made, no matter how the future free trade agreements between the European Union and the UK are concluded. Northern Ireland will continue to comply with EU rules on certain issues, such as food production and product standards. Then the question comes up of what the transitions between Northern Ireland and Britain will be.
If the answer to this question is to put a border through the Irish Sea, then it can be said that Northern Ireland has actually changed from being a part of Britain to a part of the Republic of Ireland. Moreover, this agreement, which includes some special arrangements for Northern Ireland, seems to inevitably strengthen Scotland’s demand for independence. That is why there is great resistance within the ruling Conservative Party to the Democratic Unionist Party and its Protestant community who favor the backstop solution together with Britain in Northern Ireland.
Theresa May’s backstop did not pass in Parliament because of this resistance. Now, there are reports that Johnson, who held separate meetings with leaders of Germany, France, and Ireland, is also considering a plan that agreed to keep Northern Ireland closer to the EU after Brexit. In this case, the Prime Minister must rely on the opposition to find support in order to pass the agreement in Parliament.