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Tuesday 16 July 2019

Lingering concerns Boris Johnson would seek to repackage his predecessor’s dreadful EU withdrawal deal and force it through the Commons were put to bed last night as the favourite to reach Number 10 insisted he would remove the Irish backstop.

“No to time limits or unilateral escape hatches, or elaborate devices, codicils that you could apply to the backstop,” insisted Johnson at a Hustings last night hosted by the Sun.

“It has been devised by this country as an instrument of our own incarceration within the Customs Union and Single Market.”

“No, is the answer,” when asked whether a time limit would be acceptable.

Rival, Jeremy Hunt made similar noises. “I like the way Jeremy is talking now – this new spirit of optimism,” Boris replied.

Indeed, it is. Johnson is nailed on to win in six days’ time, an eventuality reflected by the Hustings’ jovial atmosphere, a noticeable contrast to last week’s encounter. But even if Hunt were to sneak it – always a possibility – in also ruling out a fudge of the backstop, No Deal has effectively become government policy.

This is because, as things stand, the EU will not “surgically remove” the putative insurance policy for the Irish border, as previously suggested by Boris. If neither side moves, the default outcome ensues, Britain leaves on WTO terms, hurrah!

It’s difficult to overestimate the significance of Boris’s pledge to the people. Elites on both sides of the Channel had been encouraged by the former mayor of London’s liberal leanings and hitherto vague assertions on how he would deliver Brexit. They had hoped he would simply seek to polish Theresa May’s deal here and there and use his superior cajoling skills to get a Commons majority.

“I’m still expecting a deal,” a government official told Politico last week. “Boris’s deal might look awfully similar to Theresa’s, but it would stand far more chance of getting through.” Not anymore. The smug grins permanently plastered on the faces of Brussels bureaucrats may finally have cracked too – although it remains as corrupt as ever, see tweet below.

The beauty of the situation is that with Boris also promising to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October, his headline campaign policy until last night, he cannot recourse to kicking the can and resetting the whole process, which Michel Barnier would no doubt insist. Brussels now has an ultimatum it should have been handed long ago: give us a fair deal or it’s no deal.

It gets better. Stephen Barclay, one of Boris’s campaign lieutenants, was in Brussels last week. Officially, he was there to keep dialogue going, but the Times reveals that in a bad tempered meeting, the Brexit Secretary told Mr Barnier five times the Withdrawal Agreement was dead.

“If this is what is coming then we will be heading for no deal very quickly,” said a senior EU diplomat. Barclay is said to have gone into the meetings all guns blazing. Very encouragingly, he did not bring the usual team of Eurofanatic civil servants with him. Another official described it as the most hostile meeting in three years, during which Barclay seemed to “tear up the previously constructive approach taken by Theresa May”. About time.

“It is not the smart thing to do if a new prime minister is serious about getting a withdrawal agreement across the line. I guess Barclay is applying for a job in the Johnson cabinet.”

Well we would guess it’s not very smart to treat the United Kingdom as some backwater nation. two can play at this game.