Boris Johnson fails to secure Brexit deal as DUP threatens to torpedo proposals

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

Boris Johnson has failed to secure a deal with the EU tonight just two weeks before Brexit is due to happen.

According to multiple reports, the sticking point in the negotiations centres around the proposed technical solutions to the complex issue of the Irish border.

Mr Johnson needs to get a deal approved at the meeting of EU leaders starting in Brussels on Thursday if he is to avert a major political row over asking Brussels to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled October 31 deadline.

But while the UK and the EU appear to have come closer to a consensus, it is thought the DUP think the Prime Minister has made too many concessions and is unwilling to support the current proposals.

Mr Johnson admitted on Wednesday evening that “outstanding issues” to get an agreement remained, but insisted there was still a “chance” of success.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

He is hoping to put a deal to MPs on Saturday where they will vote on whether to accept it.

But these hopes hang in the balance with the DUP threatening to derail the proposals.

Furthermore, with the 27 EU leaders and their governments needing to approve a deal in the next 48 hours, it is highly unlikely Mr Johnson will have anything for MPs to vote on.

This would be a bitter blow for the PM, who has repeatedly said he will not ask the EU for any delay beyond 31 October, “come what may”.

Mount Everest challenge

Negotiations appear to have ebbed and flowed in the past two days.

The PM’s official spokesperson said on Wednesday he had updated the Cabinet, which gave its “full support” to get a deal ahead of the summit after a “positive discussion”.

“He said there was a chance of securing a good deal but we are not there yet and there remain outstanding issues,” the spokesman added.

During a brief address to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, Mr Johnson compared the situation to climbing Mount Everest, according to MPs who attended.

Referring to the Prime Minister, leading Brexiteer Mark Francois said: “He said ‘we are not quite at the summit, we are at the Hillary Step’.

“‘The summit is not far but at the moment there is still cloud around the summit’.”

Trouble at home

While the UK, the EU and Ireland are reported to be very close to agreement, Mr Johnson’s troubles remain very stark elsewhere.

The backing of Democratic Unionist Party, the government’s confidence and supply partner in Northern Ireland, is critical to Mr Johnson’s chances of securing enough votes to get any deal passed by MPs.

At the heart of their objections are concerns over the Irish border. The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has been a regular visitor to Downing Street in recent days, making clear her party will not accept a deal that creates a customs border in the Irish Sea.

She says that means Northern Ireland will be treated differently to the rest of the UK.

The government is rumoured to have offered the DUP a £1m sweetener to support Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. (AP)

She tweeted: “Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support.”

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, said on Wednesday afternoon that the terms of the Good Friday Agreement mean a customs agreement must be subject to the “consent” of unionists and nationalists before it comes into force. In other words, the DUP should be able to veto any future changes to the agreement.

Reports earlier on Wednesday suggested the PM is planning to offer a million-pound sweetener to the DUP to secure its support for his deal.

Potential clash ahead

If Mr Johnson fails to get a deal by the weekend, he could face an almighty clash with MPs who demand he comply with the Benn Act, which aims to rule out no-deal by forcing the Prime Minister to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 beyond 31 October.

Although the PM has repeatedly denied he will do this, on Wednesday morning the government admitted he was prepared to ask for an extension beyond 31 October if necessary.

Stephen Barclay admitted the government will ask for an extension if a deal fails by Saturday. (PA)

Speaking to the Exiting the European Union Committee of MPs, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay confirmed the Prime Minister would abide by the Benn Act.

Mr Barclay said: ”I can confirm, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly set out, that firstly the Government will comply with the law, and secondly it will comply with undertakings given to the court in respect of the law.”

He added: "I confirm that the government will abide by what it set out in that letter.”

The ERG

The numbers in the House of Commons do not look good for Mr Johnson.

Along with the DUP, Brexiteers from the Eurosceptic ERG wing of Tory backbenchers have been regularly courted in Downing Street. Mr Johnson will also need the support of some Labour MPs – who have been told by Jeremy Corbyn not to back a deal.

ERG chairman and self-styled "Brexit hardman" Steve Baker spoke to reporters after a meeting in Downing Street on Wednesday evening.

"We hope we will be with the Prime Minister, but there are thousands of people out there who are counting on us not to let them down and we are not going to," he said.

Former ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg believes an agreement can be accepted by MPs. (AP)

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson said in an interview with The Sun that it would be "unacceptable" for custom checks to be carried out on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader and a former ERG chairman, thinks an agreement could be accepted by MPs, telling LBC: "I think the votes are there now for a deal.”

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