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Tuesday 25 June 2019

Boris Johnson followed up yesterday’s “we can, we must and we will” pledge to leave the EU by the end of October with a BBC interview in which he urged Britons to “abandon the defeatism and negativity”.

Less assuring was Boris’s plan for Brexit, moulded around the infamous ‘Malthouse compromise’ that would see Britain still hand the EU £39bn requiring “creative ambiguity on how that gets paid over”. Oh dear.

“The solution of the Irish border questions… all those issues need to be tackled on the other side of October the 31st, during what is known as the implementation period,” which Laura Kuenssberg pointed out is a fundamental part of the withdrawal period.

The message is clear: Brussels will get our money. The “serviceable” parts of the Withdrawal Agreement will be retained and the “dead” elements will be renegotiated from the end of 2019 onwards with a view to them finding a way back in.

That’s little cause for confidence. “It’s not just up to us; it’s up to the other side as well,” insisted Johnson.

“And there is an element, of course – a very important element – of mutuality and cooperation in this.”

With that in mind, his comments on the Irish border were concerning.

“In the real world, the UK government is never going to impose checks or a hard border of any kind in Northern Ireland. That’s just number one. Number two: in the real world, the UK government is not going to want to impose tariffs on goods coming into the UK.”

In isolation, these points are perfectly valid, but they hint at an alarming lack of determination – despite the quote in the above tweet – for Britain to manage her own destiny.

Of course, no-one wants border checks on the island of Ireland, but Theresa May made exactly the same promise and ended up with the backstop via the abomination of Chequers. Boris’s comments to the BBC indicate a similar outcome, only more drawn out, with the backstop – a version of it at least – being settled during the implementation period.

In this context, today’s report in the Telegraph that France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands are putting pressure on Ireland to impose border checks in the event of No Deal Brexit is extremely significant. They are concerned Ireland could be used as an easy gateway for unregulated and untaxed goods into the Single Market.

Thus far, the EU27 have stood firm with Ireland on the backstop as an indivisible union of nations, but now that the backstop appears impossible and a No Deal Brexit highly possible, cracks are beginning to show, pragmatism is setting in.

Johnson has an opportunity to strike a much harder bargain than the one being sketched out.