Richard North, 10/09/2019  

With what Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson calls the "surrender bill" passing into law yesterday, his office issued a terse statement: "The prime minister is very clear that he will take this country out of the EU on 31 October, no ifs or buts. He will not sanction any more pointless delays".

It's impossible to say whether this is just mindless bravado but, despite the ambiguous comments of Leo Varadkar during his meeting with the Oaf in Dublin – to the effect that a deal was still possible – there is absolutely no chance of the EU acceding to the central demand of removing the backstop.

Once again we saw the Irish premier complain that the UK has no "realistic plan" for replacing the backstop. "No backstop is no-deal", he warned Johnson.

However, we seem to be getting a variation on a theme, with Johnson hinting that he might be prepared to revert to a Northern Ireland-only backstop. This is a move that would necessitate the "wet border" in the Irish Sea, previously vetoed by the DUP but now possibly feasible as the DUP no longer holds its grip on the Tories.

But this could be Johnson thrashing around as usual. Nothing formal has been produced, as confirmed by yet another source – this one Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for trade. She accuses the Johnson administration of failing to table alternatives to the Irish backstop and warns of the EU's "waning patience", given the impact on European businesses of the continued uncertainty.

According to the Guardian, the lack of such proposals and the attempt by the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, over the weekend to lay the blame for a lack of progress on the European Commission has confirmed to many in Brussels that Amber Rudd, was right about the prime minister's lack of seriousness in sealing a deal.

Yet another clue as to Johnson's lack of commitment to a deal comes via The Times which reports that the "Europe unit" which had led negotiations for a Brexit deal with Brussels under Theresa May has been disbanded by her successor.

At the height of negotiations over the original withdrawal agreement there were more than 50 civil servants working in the Europe unit under Olly Robbins, May's chief negotiator.

Now Mr Robbins and most of his former staff are all thought to have been redeployed to other government departments, while Robbins is shortly to join the private sector. His successor, David Frost, has been left with a core team of only four political and civil service advisers working directly for him in Downing Street.

An insider claims that there is no team at all in the Cabinet Office working on a potential deal and that the Europe Unit's offices have been converted into meeting rooms.

Quite how Johnson thinks he's going to get us out of the EU on 31 October, therefore, remains something of a mystery. If he can't broker a new deal – and the evidence is that he isn't even trying – and parliament won't let him leave without a deal, he does seem rather short of options.

At least he has the comfort of seeing the much-detested Speaker Bercow announce his forthcoming resignation and, with the prorogation taking effect at the close of business, the prime minister in office will no longer be troubled by the mewling of parliament for five weeks or so.

The latter is perhaps just as well as the soon-to-be-rested MP collective has left a couple of poison pills to keep him entertained – a demand for information on the Yellowhammer report and the proroguing decision, and the second refusal to permit a general election.

Amid mass abstentions, 293 MPs voted for Johnson's motion, while 46 voted against (pictured). This left the soon to be departing Speaker to declare that the majority did not satisfy the requirements of the fixed term parliaments act. The event provoked a sour comment from Johnson: "Once again, the opposition think they know better", he said, as he raged against "yellow belly" Corbyn.

One presumes that, when the MPs return, they will then be disposed to support a motion for an election, probably via a vote of no confidence from Jeremy Corbyn. And it is on the grounds that the European Council will probably grant an extension, in the hope that an election will somehow break the logjam and produce a result.

The great fear, though, is that an election will resolve nothing. Although the polls currently put the Tories ahead, a delayed election with Johnson having conceded an extension leaving the UK still in the EU puts Labour in the lead with the prospect of a hung parliament and a Lib-Lab coalition.

Under those circumstances, we could then possibly see another referendum which – as Pete points out would probably resolve nothing as well. Even if the remainers won a majority, the leave supporters would be no more inclined to accept the result than did the "people's vote" fraternity .

In no scenario imaginable, writes Pete, does the genie go back in the bottle. We are looking at years of political instability, violent protest, fragile governments and a divided, fragmenting nation. Remaining brings no closure and is not a remotely sustainable answer to the current dilemma.

The question though is what it will take to bring this developing nightmare to a close. We would like to think that the MP collective could come back after their break, energised and full of enthusiasm for the Norway option. EFTA4UK needs some money to write to MPs and peers, reminding them of the option and, if we achieve nothing else over the next five weeks, re-opening the debate would be a major step forward.

At least there is some element of rationality to work with as YouGov reports that 52 percent of respondents believe that leaving the EU without a deal would not represent a "clean break" and there would still be a lot of issues surrounding Brexit to sort out.

From the look of it, we have something to work with.

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