BORIS Johnson faces a desperate last minute scramble to get a Brexit deal agreed by EU leaders today after talks failed again last night.
The new PM heads to his first summit of Europe’s bosses in Brussels today, with an agreement “in touching distance”, No10 sources claimed.
Boris Johnson’s hopes of securing a Brexit deal are riding on the upcoming EU summitCredit: London News Pictures
Brussels chief Donald Tusk raised hopes that a deal could be struck before the summit.
He said: “Yesterday evening I was ready to bet that it’s all set and agreed, today there are certain doubts on the British side.
“The basic foundations of an agreement are ready and theoretically tomorrow we could accept this deal with Great Britain.”
France and Germany’s leaders also declared a long hoped-for agreement was very close, with Germany’s Angela Merkel declaring the talks were in the “final metres”.
But despite three hours of face to face talks in 24 hours with DUP leader Arlene Foster, the PM failed to persuade her party round to his compromise plan with Leo Varadkar for Northern Ireland.
To protect the province from splitting too far from the UK, the DUP – whose 10 MPs are propping up Boris’s minority Tory government – signalled it is prepared to hold up any deal deep into 2020.
A senior DUP source suggested to The Sun that the party is ready to play the long game, saying: “The real deadline for Brexit is the summer of 2020 when the EU needs to sign off its new budget”.
Ms Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds MP trooped in and out of No10 twice yesterday to turn down offers.
‘PONTIFICATING & INTERFERING’
At one stage, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson angrily lashed out at British as well as EU negotiators for “pontificating” and “interfering” in the peace process over the most thorny of all areas of contention, consent.
Angry Mr Wilson tweeted: “The Government and the EU’s commitment to uphold the Belfast Agreement will soon be put to the test”.
Intense haggling went on late into the night over what consent mechanism will be used for the people of Northern Ireland to give their blessing to any divergence from EU rules in future.
Ms Foster insisted it must be a “sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support”.
One frustrated senior EU diplomat told The Sun: “London is like Babylon to me – I can’t understand it”.
‘GOING STRONG FOR THE SUMMIT’
There was also a logjam between the UK and EU, as Brussels demanded that Mr Johnson accept “commensurate” Level Playing Field conditions as part of a trade deal.
A group of Member States led by France insisted on the fair competition clause over fears the UK could become a major economic competitor by scrapping regulations and becoming ‘an off-shore Singapore’.
Boris told a meeting of his Cabinet yesterday to update them on the talks that the negotiations were like the scene in the Hollywood jail movie, the Shawshank Redemption, where a prisoner crawls through a never-ending tunnel of sewage.
Then addressing Tory MPs briefly yesterday afternoon, the PM compared the current stage of negotiations to the Hillary Step – the near-vertical rock face that is the last challenge for reaching the top of Mount Everest.
Mr Johnson said: “If you were to use a mountaineering metaphor, we’re at the Hillary Step going strong for the summit but it’s shrouded in cloud. But we can see it and we will get there.”
The PM will head to a summit with EU leaders who claim a deal is closeCredit: EPA
Despite hours of talks, Boris Johnson was unable to convince Arlene Foster to back his planCredit: London News Pictures
A Government source also said last night there were still “issues to overcome” with the EU too, adding: “Everyone will be working into the night but there won’t be a deal this evening”.
A senior Brexiteer who voted against Theresa May’s deal three times said there was a “great deal of goodwill” towards Mr Johnson in the 1922 meeting and a deal was “very close”.
But the Brexiteer said they were still waiting to see the details of the proposed deal before deciding how to back it, telling The Sun: “The party is pretty much on board but we don’t know what it is so we’re on board until we know it’s time to climb off the board.”
GOVERNMENT STITCH UP
Last night Labour MP Stella Creasy claimed the Government had stitched up a behind-the-scenes deal with the DUP to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to keep the power over abortion laws.
A new bill extending abortion and same-sex marriage rights to Northern Ireland was five days from becoming law but Ms Creasy said there had been a last-minute change by ministers and claimed it was motivated by the Government’s efforts to persuade the DUP to back its Brexit deal.
She accused the Government of “shamefully using women as bargaining chips”.
‘SHAMEFULLY USING WOMEN’
Speaking at a joint press conference last night, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have declared Britain and the EU are on the brink of sealing a Brexit deal at today’s summit.
The pair said they had received indications from EU negotiators that an agreement would be reached.
Mr Macron said: “I hope, I think that a deal is just being finalised and we’re going to be able to work on that tomorrow.”
Brussels now want MPs to pass an indicative vote in favour of the package on Saturday.
One source said there was a “clear desire for an outcome in London that shows support” before the EU formally approves it.
Germany’s Angela Merkel declared the talks were in the ‘final metres’Credit: EPA
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REBELS WITHOUT A PAUSE
Rebel Tory MPs plot to seize control of Parliament again
With time fast running out, EU diplomats said the leaders will only now be able agree a political deal at the summit today, not a full legal agreement.
A short extension will still be needed so that technical details can be hammered out, they added.
Also another tense day in Westminster and Brussels yesterday;
- The Sun can reveal the PM is being urged by Cabinet allies to try use EU law to dodge the three month-long Brexit delay if no deal is agreed today.
- Ministers will today ask Parliament to hold an emergency sitting on Saturday, where Boris will hope to win Commons sign off for any fledgling deal.
- Pro-EU Tory rebel Dominic Grieve insisted EU ambassadors told him there would be no legal agreement signed today even if deal done.
- The biggest Brexit poll since the referendum revealed 54 per cent of Brits want the UK to respect the result and leave the EU
The Sun Says
JUST as Remainer MPs arrive in Brussels, shamefully hoping to sabotage knife-edge negotiations, a landmark poll destroys their case for a second referendum.
The “People’s Vote” mob have repeatedly told the world that Britain has changed its mind and is itching to reverse Brexit. It is Grade A cobblers.
The biggest, most definitive survey in three years shows 50 per cent back Leave (30 for a deal, 20 for No Deal) with 42 Remain and eight “don’t knows”.
But by an even bigger margin, 54 to 32, the public wants the 2016 result enacted.
Which might also explain why the Tories are 15 points ahead in another poll and Boris Johnson leads as “best PM” in every single region, class and age category including even the 18-24s.
A second referendum would inflict catastrophe on our divided country. Those MPs who champion it out of myopic loyalty to Remain will, we hope, be kicked out whenever an election comes.
Good riddance to the lot.