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Brexit: Johnson’s backstop plan falls short

Inside Politics: It is widely expected the UK will seek another extension to the Brexit deadline

Leo Varadkar: will thank Sweden and Denmark ‘for their ongoing solidarity with Ireland’. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Good morning.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar begins a two-day trip to Scandinavia today, during which he will meet Swedish PM Stefan Löfven in Stockholm today and Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen tomorrow.

Varadkar says the meetings will allow for discussions on Brexit, climate change, the new European Commission and the European Council meeting later in the month.

“In particular, I’ll be using this visit to thank them for their ongoing solidarity with Ireland,” he added. The Taoiseach will be hopeful that solidarity is still strong after the publication yesterday of British prime minister Boris Johnson’s proposal to replace the backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

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In case there was any doubt as to how many in the UK hope the period leading up to the next EU summit and the Brexit deadline of October 31st plays out, the Daily Telegraph front page this morning blares: "Pressure on Dublin to back deal."

The reaction in Dublin, Brussels and elsewhere, as is reported in our lead this morning, is the EU will engage on Johnson's plan but sees little hope of a deal based on the proposals being struck in the coming weeks.

The UK plan effectively keeps the North in the European single market but outside the customs union, leading to checks on the island of Ireland, with the entire arrangement subject to rolling approval from Stormont every four years.

It is widely expected the UK, much to Johnson’s protestations, will seek another extension to the Brexit deadline, as the Benn Act passed in the House of Commons stipulates, which will then allow for a British general election.

Jean-Claude Juncker, Michel Barnier, Varadkar and other EU leaders did not dismiss Johnson’s plan out of hand despite deep scepticism, almost certainly mindful of any blame game that will play out if the Brexit process breaks down irretrievably.

As Pat Leahy says in his analysis, checks on the island of Ireland are a red line for Dublin, as Varadkar made clear in the Dáil once again this week. The gap between the two sides is still very wide.

There is comprehensive Brexit coverage in The Irish Times today, with pieces from Simon Carswell, Paddy Smyth, Denis Staunton, and Freya McClements.

Budget run-up proceeds in the background

Meetings between Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and his fellow Fine Gael Ministers, Fianna Fáil and Independents continue ahead of budget day next Tuesday.

The political void caused by Brexit has meant budget preparations are relatively low key this year, but negotiations ahead of the October 8th package are entering an important few days.

Sources say spending in the departments of education, health, housing, justice and others is a concern, although the Department of Health's overspend for 2019 is expected to be between €300 million and €400 million, substantially less than last year.

The shape of the social welfare package has also yet to be agreed, with Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea saying he expects his party’s budget team - Michael McGrath and Barry Cowen - to push for €5-across-the-board increases to weekly welfare payments. O’Dea has allies on this front in the Independent Alliance, even though senior figures in Government had previously ruled it out.

Speaking to his parliamentary party last night, Leo Varadkar said no-deal Brexit supports to at-risk sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, will form the centrepiece of the budget, and the exact shape of these packages will also be keenly watched.

We also report today a new charge on diesel and petrol cars is expected.

Best reads

Miriam Lord says Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney played it cool in the Dáil during Boris Johnson's "knockabout act" at the Tory party conference in Manchester.

On the op-ed pages, Newton Emerson says the Ulster Unionist Party still has a chance to make space for itself in Northern Ireland, but he warns now is its last chance to do so.

Finn McRedmond says Boris Johnson gave in to Arlene Foster to keep hardline Tory Brexiteers onside.

Playbook

Budget meetings continue.

Dáil

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is on ministerial questions.

Leaders’ Questions is at noon.

The Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 resumes second stage, as does the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019.

Mattie McGrath has a PMB: the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill.

Seanad

The Upper House will hear statements on the beef sector.

Committees

The PAC has An Bord Pleanála before it to discuss its annual accounts for 2018.

Finance, Public Expenditure and Taoiseach will discuss the application of VAT to certain food supplements with the Irish Association of Health Stores. It will also have a session on “difficulties in relation to insurance” with AIG, Aviva and Zurich.

The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Bill is at committee stage at the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney will also discuss matters considered at the meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council.