The Foreign Secretary on Today has reinforced the Prime Minister’s Grimsby warning that if she loses the meaningful vote on Tuesday it will be the EU’s fault. Hunt warns EU leaders to take care the impasse “doesn’t inject poison into our relations for many years to come” and warns that if the EU doesn’t make further backstop concessions “people will say the EU got this moment wrong”.
This is a million miles from how EU leaders see the state of negotiations. According to a source they believe the “EU has already made its choice to be as helpful as possible on giving legally binding reassurances that the backstop will apply only for as long as necessary”. It has “submitted various ideas to the UK’s attention this week to clarify issues and reinforce mechanisms to give reassurances that the UK-requested single customs territory or the backstop more generally is not ‘a trap’, but such reassurances are always consistent with the agreed Withdrawal Agreement”. The EU “also offered ideas for how to work on alternative arrangements during the transition. And signalled a willingness to rework the Political Declaration”.
To translate this, the EU sees itself not as intransigent but as being as flexible as it can be, subject to not opening the Withdrawal Agreement, to get the deal over the line, including changing the parameters of the Political Declaration on the future relationship to make it more attractive to MPs in all parties. So EU leaders would argue intransigence is on the side of May and her Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
And as I said last night they won’t respond well to the PM playing the blame game, especially before her latest moment of truth.
P.S. In response to what I’ve just written, a member of the cabinet tells me – of EU negotiators – “when we are clear what’s needed to get this over the line, if they choose not to give that, they are choosing to fail”.
So there you have it, nutshelled. The PM is now dug in to a trench that says it is the EU that wishes to blow up Brexit by not doing as she says. But the EU would argue that: 1) They don’t really know what the PM wants; and 2) Even if they did, they are not persuaded she is right that their capitulation would in fact see her deal ratified by MPs on Tuesday. We are almost at our destination: Brexit deal, PM, government all in that Italian-Job bus, hanging over the cliff edge.
P.P.S. A senior Tory has just telephoned me to remind me:
1) When the Withdrawal Agreement was signed at the end of last year, the PM lauded the reworked backstop as a great British victory – so today Theresa May is attacking the EU for allowing her to trounce them back in the autumn!
2) The PM has consistently chanted the mantra that “there is no Brexit deal without a backstop” – and she knows that a backstop is not a backstop if one or other side can unilaterally withdraw from it, although that is what she says she wants now.
Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his Facebook page