- The United Kingdom is hurtling towards a no-deal Brexit in October, after both contenders to replace Theresa May rejected a possible compromise deal with the EU.
- Boris Johnson, the likely next prime minister, said on Monday that he would not accept compromise on the Northern Irish backstop — a compromise that even hardline pro-Brexit MPs have said they would accept.
- This creates an even bigger chasm between the UK and the EU and significantly increases the chances of a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
- A cross-party group of Members of Parliament are mobilising to prevent a no-deal exit.
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Boris Johnson on Monday pushed the United Kingdom towards a no-deal Brexit in October, telling a Conservative leadership hustings that he would not accept a compromise Brexit deal from the European Union.
Theresa May was forced to quit as Conservative party leader earlier this year after repeatedly losing votes on her Brexit deal, due largely to the inclusion of the so-called "backstop," which is designed to prevent a hard border between United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland if talks break down.
Many Conservative Members of Parliament oppose the agreement because they believe the backstop element would keep the UK tied to EU trade and customs rules indefinitely after Brexit.
Some of those MPs have suggested that a compromise deal, in which there is a fixed time-limit on the backstop or a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK, could potentially win over a House of Commons majority.
However, speaking at The Sun newspaper’s hustings on Monday evening, Johnson said that he would not accept these sort of compromises, and that as prime minister he would demand that the backstop be removed altogether.
Asked whether he would accept a time-limit or unilateral exit mechanism, he said: "No, is the answer."
The ex-foreign secretary added: "No to time limits, or universal escape hatches, or all these kind of elaborate devices, glosses, codicils and so on that you could apply to the backstop. I think the problem is very fundamental."
Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s leadership rival, said that he also wanted to bin the backstop in its entirety.
Johnson has given a series of mixed messages on Brexit in recent weeks.
During his campaign for prime minister he has variously insisted that the UK will leave on October 31 "do or die," while also insisting that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is a "million to one."
The comments have led some Brexit-backing Johnson supporters to believe he is heading for a no-deal Brexit, while some Remain-voting Johnson supporters believe it is merely a negotiating tactic to force both the EU and UK politicians into agreeing a deal on his terms.
Heading towards no-deal?
Both Johnson and Hunt have said they will seek to renegotiate the Brexit deal once they get into power.
However, their comments on the backstop mean there is set to be an even bigger chasm between the UK and the EU than there was when May led negotiations — and that’s if the EU even agrees to re-open negotiations.
EU negotiators have left Brussels for the summer and say they have no intention of revisiting the deal with the UK.
Sabine Weyand, a negotiator who played a key part in Brexit talks, has left this role to become the EU’s new Director-general for trade. The customs and transport experts who were on the EU’s Article 50 task force have also left, a figure familiar with negotiations told Business Insider. The official line is that negotiations are effectively over, as far as Brussels is concerned.
If talks were to re-open, the new hardening of the UK’s position makes a revised deal even less likely, and means the UK is hurtling it towards a no-deal exit on October 31, unless MPs who are opposed to it find a way of stopping it.
A former Conservative minister last week told Business Insider "we will find a way."
If they do not, the UK is set for a period of major disruption later this year.
Business Insider revealed over the weekend that the government had been handed a list of contingency measures that were in place for a March no-deal but had not been rolled over for a no-deal exit in October.
These included an agreement allowing UK lorries basic connectivity rights to continue operating in the EU.
A report published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week warned that the government’s no-deal Brexit preparation was "not happening quickly enough" and must be ramped up in order to be ready on time.
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