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In an interview with the BBC last night, the Conservative leadership candidate, Boris Johnson, described the current Withdrawal Agreement as “dead” but said it was necessary “take the bits which are serviceable and get them done.” Specifically, Johnson said he would as a priority seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in an “unconditional way” in UK law and also said there could be “creative ambiguity” about “when and how” the £39 billion financial settlement would be paid to the European Union. He said that the issues relating to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland “need to be tackled on the other side of October 31,” adding, “you’re going to need some kind of agreement to get an implementation period.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said that “politics has changed so much since 29 March,” adding “I think on both sides of the [English] Channel there’s a really different understanding of what is needed.” Asked about alternatives to the Irish backstop, Johnson said there were “abundant” technical solutions but “no single magic bullet” to solve the issue. He also said the future of the border was “not just up to us” but depended on EU co-operation.
Elsewhere, speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “Whatever Brexit plan the new Tory leader comes up with, after three long years of failure they should have the confidence to go back to the people on a deal agreed by parliament.”
This comes as the Conservative MP and former Cabinet Minister, Kenneth Clarke, told the BBC’s World at One yesterday said that he would be likely to vote against the government in a motion of no confidence if it was “heading towards No Deal.” He added, “It depends on the circumstances at the time… I am not going to vote in favour of a government which says it is going to pursue policies which are totally incompatible with everything the Conservative Party has stood for.”
The defence minister, Tobias Ellwood, also warned yesterday that a “sizeable” number of Conservative MPs could vote against the Government in a confidence motion in order to prevent No Deal, though he added that he himself would not be one of them. The former Attorney General and Conservative MP, Dominic Grieve, also told BBC Newsnight that he would put “the national interest… in front of any party political consideration” if a Conservative Prime Minister tried to pursue No Deal without parliamentary approval.
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The Brexit Secretary, Steve Barclay, has said that the UK Government’s commitment to the Good Friday Agreement remains “steadfast” and that any solution to the Irish border after Brexit “requires trust.” Barclay was speaking yesterday at the launch of the interim report of Prosperity UK’s “Alternative Arrangements” Commission (AAC), which is co-Chaired by the Conservative MPs Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan. In a foreword to the report, Hands and Morgan say that their findings show that “acceptable Alternative Arrangements are – with goodwill and pragmatism shown by all parties – available. Furthermore, they can be implemented within two to three years.”
Responding to the AAC report, Aodhán Connolly, the Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said, “The solutions proffered add complexity and costs that will make business in [Northern Ireland] less competitive and in some cases unviable. But with all that said this is a step forward and it provides some much needed informed debate on the issue.”
Elsewhere, the Telegraph reports that the Republic of Ireland is coming under pressure from six other member states – France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Denmark, and the Netherlands – to set out in operational detail how it will protect the integrity of the EU single market in a No Deal Brexit. An EU diplomat told the paper, “We need to know exactly what is going to happen in Ireland on day one of a No Deal Brexit if the British do nothing to help.”
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The leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told Germany’s Spiegel newspaper yesterday that her party would “still stand by Manfred Weber” in his bid to become the next European Commission President. Weber, the Spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) for the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, is an MEP for the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Kramp-Karrenbauer added that the Spitzenkandidat system is “a step towards a more democratic Europe… the European Parliament and the parliamentary groups must consider carefully whether they should simply give up this progress.”
Separately, the head of the CDU’s delegation in the European Parliament, Daniel Caspary, yesterday that French president Emmanuel Macron’s opposition to the Spitzenkandidat process was an attempt to “destroy European democracy,” adding, “We are fighting to keep the lead candidate process intact and to have Manfred Weber as the president of the European Commission.”
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) yesterday to review the government’s policy of salary thresholds as part of the post-Brexit immigration system. The MAC previously recommended that the Government should impose a minimum salary of £30,000 for skilled workers. However, Javid announced yesterday that he has asked “independent experts to review the evidence on salary thresholds,” including the level of the thresholds, how they should be calculated, whether there should be regional variations for different parts of the UK, and whether there should be any exceptions to salary thresholds. Javid said, “It’s vital the new immigration system continues to attract talented people to grow our economy and support business while controlling our borders… [and] works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.”
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) yesterday ruled that the Polish government’s judicial reforms launched in 2017, which reduced the retirement age for Supreme Court judges, was against EU law. The ECJ said in a statement that “lowering the retirement age of the judges of the Supreme Court to the judges in post within that court is not justified by a legitimate objective and undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence.”
In his column for Conservative Home, Open Europe’s Henry Newman responds to yesterday’s launch of the Alternative Arrangements Commission’s proposals. He writes, “The landing zone for a negotiated way through Brexit is slim but just discernible. At its core would be ensuring that the UK can avoid being permanently trapped in the backstop.” He adds, “The more that the [European] Commission rubbishes alternatives to the backstop, the harder it will be to persuade people that a path out is possible.”