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Monday 7 October 2019

This morning’s papers are awash with stories of Brussels’ smug anticipation Brexit will be delayed. Nevertheless, EU capitals are at least pretending a deal is to be had before October 31st. Emmanuel Macron has told the British prime minister to come up with a new formula by the end of the week. Hardly encouraging, Boris Johnson’s original proposal is already dangerously close to Theresa May’s.

 “The president told him [Boris] that the negotiations should continue swiftly with Michel Barnier’s team in coming days, in order to evaluate at the end of the week whether a deal is possible that respects European Union principles,” a French official told the Guardian

On Sunday, Boris wrote op-eds in the Sun and the Express insisting we’re “packing our bags and walking out”.

Latvia’s prime minister was invited onto the Andrew Marr show to give his appraisal. A likeable fellow, Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš conceded “We fully respect that the easy or quick thing to do is simply, no deal, hard out,” but his emphasis was an extension and a deal “that works for everyone”. Ultimately, if a deal is to be had, it’ll come after an extension. A deal before then would be a “long shot” and would require more compromises from the UK side – i.e. May’s deal.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte clearly relished sharing his similarly gloomy assessment: “Important questions remain about the British proposals. There is a lot of work to be done ahead of [the EU Council] on October 17/18.” Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is in the Netherlands today for talks.

Finland’s prime minister, Antti Rinne – who collaborated with Marcon to issue Boris with a deadline for the plan – was far less gracious, telling a German newspaper, “it seems Johnson only now understands what a big mess this is and he’s having a hard time making a suggestion that will get him out of it.”

Last week, this blog speculated European leaders would be tempted to get this dire business over with, knowing Boris is likely to be returned to Downing Street after the forthcoming election with a much stronger majority – The Tories are a full 15 points ahead of Labour in the polls – it turns out we massively overestimated them. The EU is utterly wedded to the Irish backstop and see Johnson as weak, fully expecting him to hand in a letter for an extension, as stipulated by the Surrender Act, that Kariņš told Marr he’d “probably” get (he definitely will).

For the time being, Boris is giving a determined impression, but how far will he go? The government’s submission to a Scottish Court currently looking into the Surrender Act states the PM will indeed hand in the letter. The case has been brought to the Court of Session – the same court which originally ruled against prorogation – by Remain campaigners looking to shore up Boris’s obligations under the Benn Act, as it is otherwise known.

The only clear legal option for Boris to preserve his dignity (and his poll rating) is to tempt the opposition into a vote of no confidence, leading to a deeply in democratic “government of national unity”, a bit of a gamble as it may prevent a general election, should the coalition endure. Boris has already tried this tactic after Parliament was re-opened two weeks ago, but Remainers are busily working behind the scenes to assemble a government in waiting and a leader, the latest proposition is none other than Ed Miliband, good grief.

The Sun report Miliband has been suggested as a Labour figure other Remain MPs can get nehind, namely the 21 Tory “rebels” and the good number of Labour’s own MP’s who despise Jeremy Corbyn.

But the prospect of Boris getting himself kicked out and watch the opposition crumble under an acrimonioud coalition has taken a turn. Yesterday’s papers were rife with reports he is threatening to “squat” at Number 10 in the event of a no confidence vote and dare the Queen to fire him.

“Unless the police turn up at the doors of 10 Downing Street with a warrant for the prime minister’s arrest, he won’t be leaving,” a senior source told the Sunday Times.

All sounds a little hard to believe, but Parliament has backed the prime minister into a corner while he tries to implement the people’s will, so long has he sticks to his guns, it will be Parliament, as it currently stands, that will pay the price.