Clock ticking for Brexit as Brit leader struggles for support

Top News | BLOOMBERG 17 Oct 2019

British and European Union officials are growing increasingly pessimistic about the chances of securing a Brexit deal in time for this week's summit amid resistance from Boris Johnson's Northern Irish allies.

Johnson is struggling to win the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, whose votes will be crucial if he is to get his agreement through Parliament.

While the DUP has privately accepted the prime minister's concession of putting a customs border in the Irish sea, it still wants the Northern Ireland Assembly to have a veto over the arrangements.

But EU officials, too, are still concerned the revised plan leaves open the possibility that Britain could still undercut the EU in areas such as taxation, state subsidies and environmental standards.

British and EU officials say the negotiations are stuck, with Johnson so far unable to persuade the DUP to back the draft deal.

Johnson needs a deal approved this Saturday or he will be told to seek an extension; that will likely prompt a legal battle with the risk of a no-deal exit.

In comments unlikely to calm the DUP, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly's controversial consent mechanism should be re-examined as part of efforts to revive the body.

Under current rules, a third of assembly members can effectively block a measure they don't like, theoretically allowing the DUP to veto any measures designed to install a border in the Irish Sea.

DUP's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson today fired a warning over the issue, saying negotiators "have no business interfering in the processes for consent as currently set out."

She also says the Good Friday Agreement "requires cross-community consent for all controversial issues" passing through Northern Ireland's power-sharing Assembly.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay reiterated Johnson's commitment to keeping Northern Ireland in the UK customs territory but refused to be drawn on whether discussions in Brussels include customs checks.

"It is essential that Northern Ireland is part of UK customs territory," he said.

Barclay dodged a series of questions from Wilson, in which he was asked if the government would ensure "cross-community" consent for any agreement on the Irish border. That would effectively give a veto for the DUP, which Wilson told him would be in line with the agreement.

"We have a clear commitment to find solutions compatible with the Belfast Good Friday Agreement," Barclay said.

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