James Forsyth

Boris Johnson will have to win a majority to get the EU to engage with his Brexit plan

Boris Johnson will have to win a majority to get the EU to engage with his Brexit plan
Text settings

The Brexit talks between the UK and the EU are making very little progress. Number 10 say that there is the ‘potential for some meetings next week’. But, as I say in The Sun this morning, there is little optimism about what will come from them.

There is doubt as to whether the process will even make it into the tunnel, the EU’s term for intensive serious negotiations. One Number 10 source tells me, ‘Not going to get into the tunnel without more compromise but we’re getting to the limit of what we can do.’

There are two essential problems. The first is that Theresa May gave away so much with the original backstop. The Irish and the EU, understandably, object to the UK giving up on commitments it made in both the Join Report of December 2017 and the Withdrawal Agreement. But this means that the perfectly reasonable proposition that the UK should be able to leave the EU with its customs territory intact is seen as unreasonable.

It should be noted that at Cabinet on Thursday several Ministers, notably Theresa Villiers and Andrea Leadsom, expressed concern at just how much the UK government was conceding in this offer.

The second problem is the Benn Act. This takes the pressure off Dublin. It means that they know the choice now isn’t between Boris Johnson’s offer and no deal, but between this offer and an extension. This creates an almost irresistible temptation to take the extension and see if a general election changes things. After all, if you think—as the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar does—that the UK would vote to Remain in a second referendum, why not take your chances with that?

If Boris Johnson is to get the EU to take his Brexit offer seriously, he is going to have to win a general election. A majority in parliament would show both that he could pass a deal and that the UK would leave without a deal if one could not be reached. In these circumstances, he would have a real shot at getting the EU to engage seriously with him.