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In his first statement to the House of Commons as Prime Minister yesterday, Boris Johnson reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to leaving the EU by 31 October, “whatever the circumstances.” Johnson said he was ready to negotiate a deal but that the existing Withdrawal Agreement was “unacceptable.” He added that a time-limit to the backstop “is not enough” for this to change and “the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop.” He also said he did not believe “that these issues can be solved only by all or part of the UK remaining in the Customs Union or in the Single Market,” but believed there are alternatives to the backstop which are “perfectly compatible with the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said he had instructed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, to make preparations for a No Deal Brexit his “top priority.” He added that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, had confirmed that “all necessary funding will be made available.”
Responding to Johnson, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said his party would oppose “any deal that fails to protect jobs, workers’ rights or environmental protections,” adding that “If [Johnson] has the confidence to put that decision back to the people, we would, in those circumstances, campaign to remain.” The Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, yesterday demanded that Corbyn table a motion of no confidence in the Johnson Government, but Labour refused to do so. A Labour spokesperson said, “A no confidence vote now will only strengthen Boris Johnson’s hand and further his march towards No Deal.”
Elsewhere, in an email to EU27 ambassadors sent yesterday, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier said removing the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement was “unacceptable and not within the mandate of the European Council.” Barnier added, “But as suggested by [Johnson’s] rather combative speech, we have to be ready for a situation where he gives priority to the planning for No Deal, partly to heap pressure on the unity of the EU27. No Deal will never be the EU’s choice, but we all have to be ready for all scenarios.”
Johnson also held a telephone call with the outgoing President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The European Commission said Juncker “listened to what Prime Minister Johnson had to say,” but reiterated the EU’s position “that the Withdrawal Agreement is the best and only agreement possible” but it was possible “to add language to the Political Declaration.”
Appearing on Sky News yesterday, Open Europe’s Henry Newman said it would be challenging to agree a new deal with the EU, but that “the problem is that we have a 600-page document and there are only a few problematic areas around the backstop… If we can find a path towards alternative arrangements, which are already allowed for in the treaty, most of the rest of the problems of the deal would fall away.” Newman added, “No Deal remains the legal default… The EU also have their own problems and politics…but what do they now want to happen? The deal will not pass the Commons unless there are substantial changes.”
The House of Commons rose for the summer recess yesterday. It will return on 3 September.
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The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed several more ministers to the junior ranks of the government yesterday. Nigel Adams, Chris Heaton-Harris and George Eustice, all of whom resigned from the May Government over the decision to extend Article 50 and enter cross-party talks with Labour, have rejoined the Government. Stephen Hammond, an opponent of a No Deal Brexit, has been sacked as a health minister. The deputy chairman of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs, Steve Baker, has turned down a job offer in the Department for Exiting the European Union. More junior ministers are expected to be appointed today.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia “would move as swiftly as we can” to agree a post-Brexit free trade deal with the UK, adding that an agreement could be done within months or weeks. He said, “We already put in place a trade working group between Australia and the UK to explore possibilities. And that will put us in a position where, if the UK wanted to get the deal done in a period of months, maybe even weeks, well, we would be willing to move as swiftly as they were able to.”
The leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sánchez, failed to be re-elected as the country’s Prime Minister after 155 MPs voted against him, 124 supported him and 67 abstained. Sánchez required a simple majority to be approved, following his failure to win an absolute majority in an initial parliamentary vote on Tuesday. He will remain acting Prime Minister until another vote on another candidate is held in September. If the new candidate is also rejected, a general election would be held in November.
Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Open Europe’s Henry Newman comments on the appointment of Dominic Cummings as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He writes, “To say that Cummings is a divisive character would be putting it lightly,” adding that “far from a crude ideologue who relies on abuse and invective, [Cummings is] thoughtful and pragmatic. He builds strong teams and inspires huge loyalty in those who work with him. His first steps are always to question the evidence, to test the facts and to challenge assumptions…This is an approach that has been desperately missing in Whitehall. Crucial to Johnson’s success will be his ability to grip the tiller of the ship of state and steer it in a new direction.”