an agreement between London and Brussels is still possible, but the way is very narrow

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg.

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Pro-European protesters in front of Parliament, London, 9 September. FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP

A month ago, Boris Johnson swore that it was out of the question to discuss with the Europeans as long as the latter would not have agreed to give up this famous "backstop", this insurance against the return of a border in Ireland, judged "Undemocratic" by the British Prime Minister. On Monday, September 16th, Mr. Johnson finally agreed to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, at a working lunch in Luxembourg.

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The Twenty-Seven did not give up an inch on the principle of a "backstop". The British leader is desperate: his strategy of a Brexit "Do or die" ("March or die"), scheduled for October 31, has largely derailed; the British Parliament having passed a law requiring it to ask Brussels for a three-month Brexit gap, by 31 January 2020, if it fails to reach an agreement by 19 October.

Johnson deadlocked

Boris Johnson, who continues to repeat that he wants a divorce for Halloween, no longer has a choice. If he wants to keep his promise without violating British law, he has to reach an agreement with Brussels. Theresa May was there by the end of 2018, but her deal was rejected three times by British MPs. Among other things, the "backstop" annexed to the divorce treaty was considered unacceptable. This agreement assumed that in the absence of alternative solutions to avoid a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) at the end of 2020, the latter should continue to respect the rules of the Republic of Ireland. indoor market. And the whole of the United Kingdom would remain within the European customs union. A way to limit customs, sanitary and phytosanitary controls in Ireland.

Mr. Johnson knows that this divorce agreement has almost no chance of moving to the House of Commons. The Europeans refused to amend it, it is a priori deadlocked. There is, however, a very narrow path for agreement by the end of October. And it seems that it is on her that Mr. Johnson put in a few days.

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At the end of 2017, the Europeans had indeed proposed a first version of the "backstop" in London, a minimal safety net, which provided only the regulatory alignment of Northern Ireland on the EU once the Brexit effective. The rest of the United Kingdom could diverge from the European rules as it sees fit.

Mr. Johnson began to evoke a "sanitary and phytosanitary zone" extended to all Ireland

The necessary border controls between the country and the EU27 would take place in the Irish Sea, between British ports and Irish ports. This solution, rather simple, had however almost cost Mme May his majority. The ten or so elected members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, for Democratic Unionist Party, in English), a party in Northern Ireland, had blocked this solution, and have since flatly denied that Northern Ireland could be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Read also The DUP, the small party in Northern Ireland that allows Theresa May to have an absolute majority

Twenty-Seven refuse to amend agreement with Mme May by the end of 2018, but they would be quite ready to go back to the first version of the "backstop". A week ago, Mr. Johnson began to talk about a "Sanitary and phytosanitary zone" Ireland, which would avoid controls on animals and food and plant health products transiting between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The proposal is not enough for the Europeans, but it is going in the right direction. Mr. Johnson also met Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, in recent days. If she publicly denied that her party was ready for compromise, internal sources told Times that the formation planned to revise its red lines, provided that the Irish government has a say. The DUP is afraid of losing ground in future general elections and has no interest in a "No deal".

The worried brexiters

This change of foot sketched by Mr. Johnson begins to worry the hard-line breeders of his Conservative Party, left for a "No deal", who now refuse any kind of agreement with the Europeans. Part of them marched this weekend at Checkers, the prime minister's residence outside of London. After having partially alienated the moderate wing of his party by deciding the suspension of the Parliament, Mr. Johnson risk being released by his right wing, which would make illusory any validation of a new agreement by the Parliament ?

But is Mr. Johnson only serious? "Huge progress has been made" in discussions with the EU, he said this weekend at Mail on Sunday, against all evidence, the Europeans continue to say that we are far from an agreement. Whatever happens, the UK will leave the EU because it is "Like Hulk (the green monster)the more angry he is, the stronger he is », he added. Comparison "Infantile"replied MEP Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Brexit monitoring group in the European Parliament …

Is the Prime Minister still in the bluff registry, with the sole intention of blaming the Europeans for a lack of agreement at the end of October? We may have to wait until the end of October to be fixed.

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