With 42 days left until the Brexit deadline, Boris Johnson is yet to agree a deal with the EU.
The Prime Minister insists the “Irish backstop”, the legal mechanism to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, must be scrapped before he signs up to a deal.
What’s the problem right now?
The UK and EU are entirely at odds to how much progress has been made over the issue of replacing the backstop.
And the past 24 hours has summed up why the UK and EU have seemed to reach stalemate.
On the one hand, this is the latest position of the EU, outlined by chief negotiator Michel Barnier:
“The new UK government in Luxembourg this week outlined the aspects of the backstop which they don’t like. That’s not enough, however, to move towards achieving a solution: We need a legally operative solution in the withdrawal agreement which […] which addresses each one of the risks created by Brexit. Almost three years after the UK referendum, I don’t think that we should be spending time pretending to negotiate.”
“We are told the UK must provide legally operative text by the 31st October, yet the alternative to the backstop is not necessary until the end of the Implementation Period in December 2020. In short why risk crystallising an undesirable result this November, when both sides can work together – until December 2020. In summary, the EU risks continuing to insist on a test that the UK cannot meet and that the UK Parliament has rejected three times."
Why is the Brexit secretary’s speech such a problem?
Mr Barclay’s speech referred to the “Implementation Period”, which is essentially a standstill until December 2020 where current trading arrangements between the EU and UK will continue.
The problem is that the Implementation Period only comes into force if there is a deal.
The EU has made it clear there can only be a deal if the UK provides a workable solution to the backstop before 31 October.
Therefore unless the UK comes up with a solution before the Brexit deadline of 31 October, there will be no deal and no Implementation Period.
Today the deadline was squeezed yet further after Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinner said Boris Johnson should outline his Brexit plans by the end of September.
A Number 10 spokesperson responded by saying the PM will not be bound by an “artificial deadline”.
Number 10 also confirmed that the UK had now shared a series of “confidential technical non-papers” outlining the ideas the UK has been putting forward.
Previously documents had been shown to Brussels officials but then taken back at the end of meetings for fear they would be leaked.
But a “non-paper” is not a formal Government position and falls far short of what has been demanded by Brussels.