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Brexit: What does Boris want?

Inside Politics: Government figures are unimpressed with proposal of all-island agri-food zone

Good morning.

Speaking after Cabinet yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he has had some informal discussions with his British counterparts about concepts or ideas on how to potentially replace the backstop in the Brexit deal.

Coveney gave a brief outline of who he had spoken to from London - Steve Barclay, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Julian Smith - although, as Pat Leahy and Denis Staunton report, Government figures say none of the suggestions from the UK comes close to being an adequate substitute for the backstop.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly touted his idea for an all-Ireland agri-food zone, and ITV political editor Robert Peston last night blogged an account of what kind of new Brexit deal the British prime minister wants.


In a piece headlined “Revealed: The Brexit deal Johnson wants - and why its success all hinges on Dublin”, Peston listed the main elements of London’s proposal: the all-island agri-food zone, customs and goods checks away from the Border, no part of the UK - including Northern Ireland - being in a customs union with the EU, and the so-called Stormont lock that would allow Northern Ireland unilaterally end whatever arrangement is reached to keep the Border open.

If it all hinges on Dublin, then senior figures in Government here are deeply unimpressed. One source said the aforementioned ideas are broadly what Johnson and his representatives have been trying to sell to Michel Barnier’s task force and the wider EU but cautioned they are a “long, long way off the mark”.

Sections of the UK press reacted with horror earlier this week to Johnson being empty platformed and publicly chastised in his absence by Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel. According to some British commentators, Bettel’s behaviour compared unfavourably to the polite treatment Johnson received from Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Leo Varadkar and others – including Jean-Claude Juncker – the British PM met just before his encounter with Bettel.

Juncker’s statement after his meeting with Johnson emphasised the European Commission’s “continued willingness and openness to examine” ideas that meet “the objectives of the backstop”. However, sources said that despite such conciliatory language the outgoing Commission president firmly told Johnson his proposals must begin to resemble what the EU regards as realistic. “Reality will have to bite,” said one source.

There is a belief in Dublin that Johnson wants a deal to fulfil his promise to leave the EU by October 31st, even though senior figures find it difficult to see how this could be done without the UK moving substantially in the direction of the EU.

And even if Johnson moves toward the EU on the idea of a backstop for Northern Ireland only, for example, there is still huge scepticism over whether he can get such a deal through the House of Commons.

DUP leader Arlene Foster’s speech to the Dublin Chamber tonight will also be keenly watched.

In his first words in the Dáil after the summer recess, the Taoiseach welcomed TDs back for what he believes will be an “eventful session”. One leader of an Opposition party remarked privately yesterday that Johnson and London perhaps had hoped the political consensus in Dublin in support of the backstop would have begun to crack by now, but it remains firm.

Instead, those in Government and Opposition are waiting to see which of Johnson’s stated desires wins out: his desire to leave the EU with a deal or his desire to tear apart the backstop and what it aims to do.

Varadkar warns Ministers to toe the line

Fine Gael TDs and senators left their think-in in beautiful Garryvoe, Co Cork, last week in high spirits after what some described as their most successful pre-Dáil gathering in years.

Comments from the Taoiseach that he would be willing to facilitate a Fianna Fáil-led government from Opposition in a reciprocal confidence-and-supply deal if Micheál Martin won more Dáil seats than Fine Gael, or that he is open to a grand coalition between the two main parties, perplexed some, however.

Varadkar’s statements could be viewed as a statement of the obvious since Fine Gael crossed the grand-coalition Rubicon in 2016, when Enda Kenny offered Martin a place in a shared government, and it would widely be seen as churlish not to reciprocate the current confidence-and-supply deal.

But many within the Fine Gael parliamentary party were critical, accusing the Taoiseach of rehabilitating Fianna Fáil after they had spent the think-in accusing Martin and his TDs of being reckless and profligate. As usual, these internal grumblings made their way into the media, much to the annoyance of the Taoiseach, it seems.

At the weekly pre-Cabinet meeting of Fine Gael ministers, Varadkar is said to have chastised his Ministers over negative briefings, as we report here.

It is understood he told his Ministers that, in his two-and-a-half years as Taoiseach, he had never negatively briefed about a colleague.

We expect nothing but sunshine from within Fine Gael in future.

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Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is on oral questions.

Leaders’ Questions is at noon, followed by questions on Promised Legislation and Taoiseach’s questions.

Fianna Fáil have a Private Members’ motion on the beef crisis.

The Investment Limited Partnerships (Amendment) Bill 2019 is at second stage.

There will also be statements on Brexit.

The Childcare (Amendment) Bill 2019 is at second stage.


The Upper House is not sitting today.


Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is before the Oireachtas Justice and Equality Committee on Garda reform and his new policing model.

The Health Committee is getting an update on the CervicalCheck screening programme.

The Committees on Rural and Community Development and the Committee on Members’ Interests meet in private.

Transport, Tourism and Sport discusses the upgrade to the Ardee bypass.

Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a session on the development of the Lusitania Museum in Kinsale.

Eoghan Murphy is before the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to give an update on Rebuilding Ireland.