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#Brexit - Johnson faces mounting legal, political, diplomatic challenges

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan was facing mounting legal, political and diplomatic challenges on Friday (30 August) as Ireland accused Britain of being unreasonable and former British leader John Major sought to stop the suspension of parliament, write Guy Faulconbridge and Gabriela Baczynska.

The ultimate outcome of Britain’s tortuous three-year Brexit crisis remains unclear with options ranging from a frantic departure without an exit deal or a last-minute agreement to an election or referendum that could cancel the whole endeavour.

Johnson, the face of the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, has promised to lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union in two months with or without a divorce deal, a threat he hopes will convince the bloc to give him the exit deal he wants.

In the eye of the Brexit maelstrom, though, Johnson was under mounting pressure: opponents in parliament were plotting to tear up his Brexit plans or topple his government, while his suspension of parliament was under scrutiny in the courts.

Johnson’s bid to get the insurance policy for the Irish border changed were bluntly dismissed by Dublin which said London was being totally unreasonable.

“Boris Johnson is outlining a very clear and firm position but it is a totally unreasonable position that the EU cannot facilitate and he must know that,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in an interview with Ireland’s Newstalk radio.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Britain should make concrete proposals as soon as possible but that the EU could not imagine reopening the Withdrawal Agreement that Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May agreed with Brussels in November.

Britain insisted it had made proposals on the border backstop and that it was “untrue” to suggest it had not.

The government said British negotiators would hold twice-weekly talks with EU officials next month in an attempt to rework the Brexit agreement that Britain’s parliament has repeatedly rejected.

With just two months until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU, Johnson’s decision to ask Queen Elizabeth to suspend parliament was under challenge from three separate court proceedings.

The queen on Aug. 28 approved Johnson’s order to suspend parliament from as early as Sept. 9 to Oct. 14, a move that ensures parliament would sit for around four days less than it had been expected to.

Former Prime Minister John Major, whose 1990-1997 premiership included the 1992 disorderly exit of the pound from the Exchange Rate Mechanism, asked to join one of the proceedings to block Johnson’s order

A Scottish court will hear arguments on 3 September, a case brought by campaigner Gina Miller will be heard on Sept. 5 and a Northern Irish court will hear a separate case on 6 September.

Ultimately, the cases could be combined to go to the Supreme Court - the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom which hears cases of the gravest constitutional importance.

“Legal proceedings can be fast-tracked as the judges in the case determine,” Robert Blackburn, professor of constitutional law at King’s College London, told Reuters.

“If the case of those bringing the legal proceedings wins, the Supreme Court could quash and/or declare unlawful the Privy Council order authorising the forthcoming prorogation,” said Blackburn.

In parliament, the battle for Brexit was due to begin in earnest on 3 September when lawmakers return from their summer break and will try to either topple the government or force through a law designed to prevent Britain leaving the EU without an exit deal.

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We’re disappointed by EU but a deal can be done, says Raab

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Britain is disappointed by the European Union’s demand that London give more concessions to secure a trade deal but a deal is close and can be done, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday (16 October), write Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle.

“We are disappointed and surprised by the outcome of the European Council,” Raab told Sky News.

“We’ve been told that it must be the UK that makes all of the compromises in the days ahead, that can’t be right in a negotiation, so we’re surprised by that but the prime minister will be saying more on this later today.”

“Having said that, we are close,” Raab said of a deal. “With goodwill on both sides we can get there.”

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Brexit brinkmanship: Johnson says prepare for no-deal and cancels trade talks

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday (16 October) it was now time to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit unless the European Union fundamentally changed course, bluntly telling Brussels that there was no point in continuing the negotiations, write and

A tumultuous “no deal” finale to the United Kingdom’s five-year Brexit crisis would sow chaos through the delicate supply chains that stretch across Britain, the EU and beyond - just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

At what was supposed to be the 'Brexit summit' on Thursday (15 October), the EU delivered an ultimatum: it said it was concerned by a lack of progress and called on London to yield on key sticking points or see a rupture of ties with the bloc from Jan. 1.

“I have concluded that we should get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia’s based on simple principles of global free trade,” Johnson said.

“With high hearts and with complete confidence, we will prepare to embrace the alternative and we will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation, controlling and setting our own laws,” he added.

EU heads of government, concluding a summit in Brussels on Friday, rushed to say that they wanted a trade deal and that talks would continue, though not at any price.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful leader, said it would be best to get a deal and that compromises on both sides would be needed. French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain needed a Brexit deal more than the 27-nation EU.

Johnson’s spokesman said talks were now over and there was no point in the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier coming to London next week barring a change in approach.

However, Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost had agreed to speak again early next week, Downing Street said.

The pound oscillated to Brexit news, dropping a cent against the US dollar on Johnson’s remarks but then rising before falling again on his spokesman’s comments.

After demanding that London make further concessions for a deal, EU diplomats and officials cast Johnson’s move as little more than rhetoric, portraying it as a frantic bid to secure concessions before a last-minute deal was done.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he thought Johnson had signalled that London was ready to compromise.

While US investment banks agree that a deal is the most likely ultimate outcome, the consensus was wrong on the 2016 Brexit referendum: when Britons voted by 52-48% to leave, markets tumbled and European leaders were shocked.

Asked if he was walking away from talks, Johnson said: “If there’s a fundamental change of approach, of course we are always willing to listen, but it didn’t seem particularly encouraging from the summit in Brussels.

“Unless there is a fundamental change of approach, we’re going to go for the Australia solution. And we should do it with great confidence,” he said.

A so-called “Australia deal” means that the United Kingdom would trade on World Trade Organization terms: as a country without an EU trade agreement, like Australia, tariffs would be imposed under WTO rules, likely causing significant price rises.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was keen for a deal, though Macron was more downbeat.

“The state of our talks is not that we are stumbling over the issue of fishing, which is the British’s tactical argument, but we’re stumbling over everything. Everything,” Macron said.

“The remaining 27 leaders of the EU, who chose to remain in the EU, are not there simply to make the British prime minister happy,” he added.

Merkel called for Britain to compromise. “This of course means that we, too, will need to make compromises,” she said.

Britain formally left the EU on 31 January, but the two sides have been haggling over a deal that would govern trade in everything from car parts to medicines when informal membership known as the transition period ends 31 December.

Johnson had repeatedly asserted that his preference is for a deal but that Britain could make a success of a no-deal scenario, which would throw $900 billion in annual bilateral trade into uncertainty and could snarl the border, turning the southeastern county of Kent into a vast truck park.

The EU’s 27 members, whose combined $18.4 trillion economy dwarfs the United Kingdom’s $3trn economy, says progress had been made over recent months though compromise is needed.

Main sticking points remain fishing and the so-called level playing field - rules aimed at stopping a country gaining a competitive advantage over a trade partner.

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Boris Johnson ready to settle for an Australia-style deal, as talks reach an impasse

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Here is the statement from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in full.

"From the outset we were totally clear that we wanted nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship based on friendship and free trade. To judge by the latest EU summit in Brussels, that won’t work for our EU partners. They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is completely unacceptable to an independent country. And since we have only 10 weeks until the end of the transition period on 1 January, I have to make a judgement about the likely outcome and to get us all ready.

"And given that they have refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months and given that this summit appears explicitly to rule out a Canada-style deal, I’ve concluded that we should get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade. And we can do it because we always knew that there would be change on 1 January whatever type of relationship we had. And so now is the time for our businesses to get ready and for our hauliers to get ready, for travellers to get ready.

"And, of course, we’re willing to discuss the practicalities with our friends where a lot of progress has already been made, by the way on such issues as social security and aviation, nuclear cooperation, and so on. But, for whatever reason, it’s clear from the summit that after 45 years of membership, they are not willing, unless there’s some fundamental change of approach, to offer this country, the same terms as Canada.

"And so with high hearts and with complete confidence, we will prepare to embrace the alternative and we will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation controlling our own borders, our fisheries and setting our own laws. And in the meantime, the government will, of course, be focusing on tackling COVID and building that better so that 2021 is a year of recovery and renewal."

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