LONDON/DUBLIN (BLOOMBERG/REUTERS) - Boris Johnson will travel to Luxembourg for his first face-to-face talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Brexit on Monday (Sept 16). The prime minister has said he's hopeful of striking a deal and that both sides "can see the rough area of landing space" for it.
Meanwhile, political and legal challenges are mounting against Johnson's threat to deliver Brexit without a divorce deal if necessary. The British prime minister still wants a general election to break the impasse, and will appeal to voters in pro-Brexit areas of northern England in a speech on Friday.
Johnson Heckled Over Parliament Suspension
Johnson said on Friday there was the “rough shape” of a Brexit deal to be done and he was cautiously optimistic an agreement could be reached to smooth Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“We are working incredibly hard to get a deal. There is the rough shape of a deal to be done,” he told an event, Convention of the North conference in Rotherham, in northern England. “We’ll talk about the ideas that we have been working on, and we’ll see where we get. I would say I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Johnson was in electioneering mode as he made his speech. He focused on the needs to improve transport infrastructure in the local area, including announcing a plan to give greater control of trains to local authorities in the north of England. He said they would have more control over their budgets but also more responsibility for problems.
Johnson said he will not let “shenanigans at Westminster” deter him from pressing on with domestic policy priorities as well as delivering Brexit. The premier suspended Parliament for five weeks on Monday after MPs voted through a law that forces him to delay Brexit if he cannot get a deal.
He accused opposition parties of not wanting an election and not wanting to deliver Brexit either. “I certainly won’t be deterred by anybody from our goal of coming out of the EU on Oct. 31,” Johnson said. “But I also won’t be deterred from getting on with out domestic agenda.”
His speech to the Convention of the North, on the subject of how the government can help parts of the country that are not close to London, was also interrupted by a heckler, who was angry at the suspension of Parliament.
“Maybe get back to Parliament!” the man shouted, urging the prime minister to join MPs “in Parliament sorting out the mess that you created.” “I’m very happy to get back to Parliament very soon,” Johnson replied, before plowing on.
JOHNSON TO MEET JUNCKER ON MONDAY
Boris Johnson will travel to Luxembourg at "lunchtime" on Monday for Brexit talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, his office said on Friday. It will be the first meeting between Johnson and Juncker since the British premier took office in July.
The meeting will be a working lunch, a commission spokesman told reporters in Brussels, declining to disclose the location.
Later in the day, Johnson will meet his counterpart in Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel.
The meetings are a sign Johnson is ramping up engagement with the EU to try to resolve the impasse over Brexit. He has pledged to take the UK out of the bloc "do or die" on Oct 31 without a deal if necessary, but that his preference is for a divorce agreement. One UK official played down the chances of a breakthrough on Monday.
JAVID: TIME TO GET A BREXIT DEAL
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said it was time to "knuckle down'' and get a deal with the EU, while ruling out any kind of election pact with Nigel Farage's Brexit Party.
Speaking to Bloomberg TV in Helsinki, where he is attending an informal meeting of EU finance ministers, Javid said the UK would eventually need a deal with the EU even if it leaves without one on 31 Oct.
"It's also understood that whether it's a deal now, eventually we'll need some kind of deal, so I think it's in everyone's interest that we knuckle down, get on with it and strike a deal as soon as we can,'' he said.
While Johnson's administration still plans to leave the EU on Oct 31, Javid insisted the government would abide by "the rule of law''. Ministers are looking at ways to get around a law passed last week by Members of Parliament that requires Johnson to ask for an extension if he does not get a divorce deal by Oct 19.
Javid also ruled out any kind of arrangement or pact with the Brexit Party at the next election. Farage has offered a non-aggression pact in return for Johnson backing a no-deal Brexit.
COMMONS TO ELECT NEW SPEAKER ON NOV 4
The House of Commons has announced that the election for a new Speaker will take place on Nov 4, shortly after the incumbent, John Bercow, steps down.
The process for choosing the Speaker is steeped in tradition. Once Bercow stands aside, the famous Speaker's Chair inside the Commons chamber will be occupied by the longest-serving MP, 79 year-old former chancellor Ken Clarke. He will preside over the election as the rival candidates make their pitches to the House.
Successive secret ballots will follow, until one candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, or a single contender remains. By tradition, the winner is dragged from his seat in the Commons and marched across the chamber to take up his new position in the Speaker's Chair.
Bercow earlier in the week said that he will step down On Oct 31. His deputy, Labour's Lindsay Hoyle, is the favourite to succeed him.
Bercow has warned Johnson that MPs will not let him force a no-deal Brexit.
UK SEES PROGRESS IN ROLLING OVER TRADE DEALS
As part of preparations for leaving the European Union, the UK has been trying to roll over trade deals with third countries that it currently benefits from through its EU membership, so that they also apply after Brexit. Those deals account for £139 billion (S$237.5 billion) or 10.7 per cent of total trade.
On Friday, the country said it has now rolled over 64.2 per cent of that trade, and that once an agreement in principle reached on Sept 10 with a group of African nations including South Africa is ratified, the proportion will be 71.2 per cent. That protects £99 billion of commerce; an increase of £38.5 billion since March, according to the government analysis.
Canada remains the biggest holdout against a rollover, with trade worth more than £18 billion currently governed by the EU's deal with the North American nation. And business groups have said that even some of the rolled-over deals do not protect all trade governed by the existing EU deals, because they have been weakened.
FARAGE SHOWS JOHNSON THE WAY IN PRO-BREXIT NORTH
Voters in Hartlepool demonstrated why Boris Johnson is travelling north to deliver his election pitch on Friday. They handed control of the north-east town's council to Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, the BBC reported, delivering a significant blow to the Labour Party in an area it traditionally dominates.
Johnson is targeting pro-Brexit voters who have become disillusioned with Labour as it shifts towards backing a second referendum on leaving the European Union. His Conservative Party hopes it can take seats in Leave areas to offset any it might lose to Labour or the pro-EU Liberal Democrats in Remain-leaning districts.
But the Hartlepool result is further evidence he's unlikely to get the Brexit vote to himself. Johnson's officials ruled out an electoral pact with Farage this week, but the question will not go away if the Tories see the pro-Brexit vote still split heading into a national election.
BREXIT GAP 'VERY BIG', IRISH PM SAYS
Ideas floated so far to replace the backstop - the fallback measure in the Brexit withdrawal agreement designed to keep the Irish border free of checks - fall "very short" of what is needed, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.
In interviews with Irish radio stations RTE and Newstalk, he said that while the two sides are talking and he'll fight for an agreement to the last day, a no-deal Brexit remains a "real risk". Some "exploratory discussions" are under way with the British government as Johnson seeks "alternate arrangements" to the backstop, he said.
"We've always accepted that alternative arrangements could supersede the backstop," Varadkar said. "But I think the gap is very big at the moment."
WILSON: 'NONSENSE' TO SAY DUP SOFTENING ON BACKSTOP
Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, denied the party was prepared to shift its red lines to help unlock a divorce deal between the UK and the European Union. Wilson was commenting after the Times newspaper reported the DUP would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea - an idea they have always said amounted to barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The Times article is "totally untrue," Wilson told BBC Radio. A concession on those lines "is contrary to the position we have adopted throughout the debate," he said, adding that Boris Johnson's government has "has made it quite clear that it will not accept an arrangement which has a backstop, which separates Northern Ireland out from the rest of the United Kingdom."