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Brexit: EU fears that Commons will put the brakes on Boris Johnson

Three defeats: Theresa May
Three defeats: Theresa May

By Kevin Doyle

European ministers fear Boris Johnson will struggle to get a new Brexit deal through the House of Commons after he ceded yet more ground to the EU.

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A compromise on the Irish backstop was "within grasp" late last night as both sides moved towards agreeing a protocol for a border in the Irish Sea. However, a number of EU foreign ministers have raised concerns about how the detail will be received in London.

At a meeting in Luxembourg, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier is understood to have told representatives that his job is to negotiate with the UK Government and not the Parliament.

"It is up to the government to get an agreement approved by parliament," a source said.

Theresa May failed to get the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, through the House of Commons on three occasions before her premiership was toppled.

The leader of the strongly pro-Brexit faction within the Conservative Party said he was optimistic that a tolerable deal could be struck.

Steve Baker, the head of the European Research Group (ERG) which wants a cleaner break with Brussels, told reporters after he emerged from a meeting in Johnson's office that he was pleased the Government was making progress.

"I am optimistic that it is still possible we could reach a tolerable deal and I will be voting for it," he said.

There is growing anticipation in Dublin and Brussels that a deal can be secured after the UK agreed to further compromises on the issues of consent and customs.

Both sides have now agreed that political parties in Northern Ireland must have a say over a 'special relationship' between the region and the EU.

This could involve a vote every four to six years - but safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the DUP cannot have a veto.

"This should deal with claims of a democratic deficit around the backstop," said a source.

Resolving issues around customs has proven more difficult.

The UK has resisted the suggestion that a fully-fledged border down the Irish Sea is the most practical way of breaking the deadlock.

Yet EU sources said there has been a "further shift" in the UK position back towards a Northern Ireland-only backstop since Mr Johnson met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week.

Underpinning this with legal text remained a stumbling block as work continued late into the night.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was cautious about how her party will react to further concessions by Mr Johnson.

She said any deal must respect the constitutional and economic place of Northern Ireland within the UK.

"When I hear talk of a Northern Ireland backstop I think things are very far off the mark," she said before meeting Mr Johnson. The Prime Minister will update his Cabinet this morning. Mr Barnier will also hold a briefing for EU ambassadors in Brussels.

Sterling surged to its highest level against the dollar and euro since May on rising hopes for a deal - but the clock is ticking on a number of tight deadlines.

If a treaty is to be approved by EU leaders at their summit tomorrow and Friday then the full detail must be released to capitals today.

The House of Commons is likely to have its first Saturday sitting in 37 years where Mr Johnson will argue for a deal.

However, if one hasn't been secured then attention will turn to the Benn Act which legally requires him to seek a Brexit delay beyond October 31.

Belfast Telegraph


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