Robert Peston Robert Peston

Why Boris Johnson needs an election to deliver Brexit

What more-or-less all Tory MPs seem to have missed is that Philip Hammond, the ex-chancellor who has become the anti-no-deal Sandinista, agrees with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings on the big thing that matters.

Hammond loudly – and Johnson, with his consigliere Cummings sotto voce – all accept that EU leaders and negotiators do not see ANY way of negotiating a new Brexit deal on the basis of what Britain’s new Prime Minister says he wants. As one Brussels official confirmed to me, even if EU leaders – and especially Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – were prepared to do as Johnson asks and rip up the backstop, which they most definitely are not, they could not do so unless Johnson offered a detailed proposal for what would replace the backstop. And he says both that he can’t and won’t.

‘When David Frost [Johnson’s Brexit negotiator] came to see us, we asked what would replace the backstop’ said an official. ‘Frost said that talks on putting in place new arrangements to keep open the border on the island of Ireland would have to take place after the UK leaves the EU, during negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU. If that happened, we would be abandoning our insurance policy for protecting the single market without having any certainty, any real clue, on what would replace it. That’s impossible. We can never do that.’

Or to put it another way, the view in Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Dublin is that the locomotive to a no-deal Brexit on 31 October is almost unstoppable, and therefore the priority for them is to put in place measures to mitigate against the most damaging consequences. These prophylactic measures include probably suspending state-aid rules for Eire to allow the bail-out of businesses hurt by a no-deal Brexit, and making sure individual EU members don’t unilaterally agree to mini-deals with Johnson that would undermine the EU’s unity.

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