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European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier Image Credit: Reuters

London: The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator on Sunday declared that he will not scrap the Irish backstop, even as Boris Johnson considered ousting Tory MPs who undermine his attempts to secure a new deal with Brussels.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Michel Barnier insisted that the controversial insurance plan for the Irish border represents the “maximum flexibility” that Brussels can offer, and says that any solution to the current impasse must be “compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement” agreed with Theresa May. He also hits back against Johnson’s claims that a no-deal exit would be the fault of the EU, saying he would be “surprised” if the public “succumb to the idea that the EU is to blame for a difficult political situation in the UK”.

Barnier’s comments appear to fly in the face of Johnson’s optimism that EU leaders “want this thing done”, after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, expressed a willingness to discuss alternatives to the plan described by the British Prime Minister as “anti-democratic”. Barnier said he would only start to negotiate “alternative arrangements” to the backstop if the current agreement was passed by Britain’s Parliament.

His intervention comes as Johnson prepares for a showdown on Monday with former ministers, including Philip Hammond and David Gauke, leading a campaign to block a no-deal exit from the EU on October 31.

“I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario, but we should all continue to work with determination. The EU is ready to explore all avenues that the UK government may present and that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement. Its objective is simply to have an insurance policy in place that guarantees that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains fully open, and that the status quo of cross-border exchanges on the island of Ireland is maintained,” Barnier said.


UK’s Labour says no-deal legislation will be tabled Tuesday

Plans for legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit will be published on Tuesday, Britain’s opposition Labour treasury spokesman John McDonnell said on Sunday. “Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to legislate within a week, the Prime Minister knows that and that’s why he’s proroguing parliament,” he told Sky News. “MPs with decades of experience are now looking to see how on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday of next week we can introduce a legislative measure which will enable us to prevent a no-deal without parliamentary approval. The technique of that will be published on Tuesday.”

Gove won’t say if government would obey rebel law

Michael Gove, the British minister responsible for no-deal preparations, wouldn’t say if Johnson’s government would abide by any legislation passed by rebels that blocks a no-deal Brexit. He told the BBC that the opposition’s aim was just to overturn the referendum result and that the British public doesn’t want any more delays. He said he hoped that the UK isn’t headed for another general election. He also insisted that the government is making progress in negotiations with the EU, and said that as well as removing controversial measures around the Irish border from the existing deal, the government wanted changes to the political declaration to state an ambition to have a free-trade deal between the UK and the EU. If there isn’t a deal, there won’t be food shortages, he said, though prices may go up.

France launches cross-Channel Brexit ‘dress rehearsal’

The French government has started a month-long Brexit dress rehearsal for trucks carrying goods across the Channel to Britain through the port of Calais. “For one month we will act as if Brexit has happened,” said Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin, who will launch the new customs system together with the British minister in charge of planning for a no-deal Brexit, Michael Gove.

“We will put in place a sort of dress rehearsal for most companies, in order to be fully ready at the end of October,” Darmanin told RTL radio. The French state has hired an additional 700 customs agents to cope with the border checks that will be put in place after Britain leaves the European Union.