Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. Mar. 01, 2019 4 min read

Right. It's Friday. A quick #Brexit sitrep, as I understand it, with chats from both sides.

Tldr: the tiller of SS Britannia seems stuck fast, and the No Deal rapids lie dead ahead....is there anything that will blow the ship to the safety of the shore? /1

There are lots of murmurs round Westminster that MPs now want to back the deal - this kind of stuff noted in @Jack_Blanchard_ playbook. /2

But dig a little deeper, and ask people in Commons/Lords if acceptance of a deal requires Cox/May to win changes to the backstop - a time-limit, an exit mechanism - they say 'oh yes, of course'... /3

Mmm. In that case, bad news from Brussels. Doesn't look like that's happening... as I've written in a series of Brexit Bulletins this week, there's a still a huge expectations gap. /4

But does that matter? Won't the threat of an extension and losing Brexit be enough to spook ERG and other MPs into backing the deal?

Sure, 20 ERG types are diehards, but there's enough Labour 'rebels' (with a wink from leadership) to get it over the line. /5

Maybe. But there were 118 Tory 'no' votes last time, and a lot of MPs who abstained in this week's vote (80 or so) are clear they want what @DominicRaab called "substantial legally binding" changes to the backstop.

Alas, I got more bad news from Brussels...

/6

I'm not sure those changes are coming - viz time-limits, exit mechanism or even some of the fixes I've heard talk on -

EG: depositing codicil at the UN so Cox can reference Article 60 of Vienna Convention 1986 on right of parties to exit treaties in even of material breach. /7

Or a new appeal/arbitration mechanism so that UK can appeal if EU isn't working hard enough to put those "alternative arrangements" in place.

EU wont subcontract decision on single market integrity (ie what does that with no hard border) to third party. /8

There is still time before March 12 but hard to see why things change, particularly as (according to multiple sources) any changes must be agreed by Irish govt.

And they don't seem to bovvered at the moment...thanks to May being forced to ask for extension. /9

Recall @campaignforleo is running a minority govt and the voters do NOT want him (by 80-20 per SkyData poll) to cave on backstop. So Ireland sits tight...the rationale seems clear.

Either fear gets backstop over line (TICK)

OR May is forced to ask for extension.... (10)

Which means:

1) Pivot to Corbyn/CU (TICK)
2) People's Vote, may be no Brexit (TICK)
3) General Election (who knows, but delays invidious decision for Varadkar (TICK) /11

Perhaps that underestimates risk of a 'no deal' (which would be disaster for Ireland) but no sign Ireland feels that's an imminent risk. So my bet is that they sit tight....if the concession comes, it wouldn't be until even later in the game. /12

So back to Westminster. If the above is correct, and no rabbits come out of the hat, then we're stuck with Cox's big ol boomin voice, the fleshed out promise of a full-fledge unicorn hunt and the fear of an extension being enough to get Brexiteers to cave. /13

Some think they will - and I'm not a Westminster correspondent so I defer to those who know, but it feels tight to me.

I also read from @tnewtondunn and others that there could be a grand bargain - May's deal in exchange for her head.

But I don't get this either... /14

If May's deal goes over the line, backstop intact, then even the most buccaneering and brexiteery prime minister imaginable has the same set of issues.

The trade talks open. The UK is asked what it wants, and back comes the reply: "SuperCanada". /15

Which starts the familiar question of where you want the checks? In the Irish Sea? "no"...on the Irish border that is now an external EU border (no, we've agreed not to do that)....so where? Ah...we think we can do it via technology. /16

Cue raised EU eyebrow. Sweden-Norway has a tech border, but that has 10 minute checks, lots of infrastructure AND Norway's in the Single Market.

But hey, let's fire up the engines and have a jolly good hunt for same.....which will take until 2021? 2022? /17

Still no dice? Ah, it's then its backstop time and a Customs Union, and with no exit clause/time limit it can only fall away if Irish and EU Commission agree with UK contentions that tech can do the job. Otherwise the backstop changes, or falls away if UK indeed opts for CU /18

Which of course is precisely why - to take us back to the beginning - the Brexit crowd want these changes. Because they know otherwise the EU doesn't think the tech can work.... /19

Still seems like the same rocks, the same hard places to me.

But the ERG/Brexiteers always folded or ran away in the past, so may well do so again. As the EU figured they will. That will set an interesting marker for the next, substantive phase of negotiations too. /20

It is going to be very hard to predict.

Perhaps it will come down to a choice between a bad deal, and rolling the dice on a General Election.

Or between a botched Brexit or no Brexit (that leaves you free to complain for evermore)...

Tick-tock. Good weekend all. /ENDS


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