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Today in Brexit: Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar hold a crunch lunch.
What’s happening? U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar will meet in an undisclosed location somewhere in the north of England for last-minute talks to break the deadlock. Sometime this afternoon, we may know the fate of Brexit.
These conversations have to go well, if Britain is to have any chance of leaving the European Union with a divorce agreement. If they fail, the country will be set for either a disruptive no-deal Brexit or a third delay to its departure — a humiliation for a prime minister who has promised to leave by Oct. 31.
The two men will have to see if they can compromise on at least two issues: customs and consent. Johnson wants Northern Ireland to leave Europe’s customs union — but Ireland, with its history of violence, is viscerally opposed to the return of customs post along its land border. To ease the pain, the prime minister has proposed keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods and suggested that any checks could take place away from the frontier. The U.K. has also offered to make these future arrangements subject to the consent of Northern Ireland's regional assembly — something the EU opposes because it would undermine what is supposed to be a permanent guarantee against the return of a hard border.
Is there scope for agreement on customs and consent? Johnson says he is cautiously optimistic, but his room for maneuver is shrinking. Just yesterday, the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up his government in Westminster, torpedoed a reported move by the EU to break the impasse by giving both nationalist and loyalist communities a say over how long they would stay in Europe’s single market.
For Europe, there is no deal without Ireland’s agreement, and yesterday EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier rejected the U.K.’s proposal to work out the mechanism for customs checks. For Johnson, there is no agreement without the consent of the DUP. If Britain is to avoid crashing out of the EU, someone has to give.
- In the City of London, firms are taking no chances before the Brexit deadline as they ban holidays and prepare to execute their contingency plans, according to Bloomberg’s Charlotte Ryan. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of a 10% move in sterling or U.K. stocks.
Johnson has promised his party won’t fight the next election on an explicitly no-deal Brexit platform following a rebellion by moderate Conservative lawmakers, according to Sebastian Payne of the Financial Times. Nigel Farage, meanwhile, has told the Telegraph he thinks the Conservative Party has no option but to fight an election on that basis.
- Brexiteers’ “Kraut” taunts are a sign of real weakness and attempts by Johnson’s allies to blame German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the likely collapse of deal talks are part of the same cultural framework, writes Bloomberg Opinion’s Leonid Bershidsky.
Brexit in Brief
Data Error | A no-deal Brexit won’t just disrupt trucks and ports, firms will face a mountain of paperwork to avoid breaking data-protection laws.
Cold Comfort | Nissan is set to unveil a revamped production line in the English town of Sunderland, where the Japanese manufacturer operates Britain’s biggest auto plant. But the announcement may be no more than a stay of execution for a factory whose future will be on the line in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In Contempt | The prime minister may face a contempt of court action in Scotland if he reneges on his promise to comply with the Benn Act and seek a delay, the Guardian reports.
Election Vow | The Labour Party is ready and “champing at the bit” for an early U.K. election, its leader Jeremy Corbyn will say today, while accusing Johnson of using the Queen to win support.
Crashing Out | Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who lost out to Johnson in the Conservative leadership race earlier this year, warned the BBC that the EU could be heading for a no-deal Brexit by mistake.
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