Away from the crowd in Manchester the political realities spell trouble for the prime ministerby Rachel Sylvester / October 2, 2019 / Leave a comment
Get Brexit Done. That is the slogan on banners hanging around the exhibition hall and the applause line of every Tory conference speech. It came straight out of the focus groups conducted by No 10 and is now being repeated back to the voters by a prime minister elected by his party because of his “do or die” commitment to take the UK out of the EU.
Yet it is not, of course, in Manchester that Brexit will be delivered by 31stOctober—if it can be at all—but in Brussels and Westminster where Opposition MPs met this week to plot how to thwart the government’s plans. This must be why there is a strange air of unreality about this event. Party conferences always exist in a parallel universe, with leaders obliged to address two audiences—the party members in the hall, and the voters watching on television at home—but the fact the House of Commons is sitting this week, and the urgency of the Brexit negotiations that are taking place elsewhere only exacerbates the sense that there is an alternative reality being played out in Manchester.
For all the bluster and bravura that Boris Johnson will display in his conference speech today there is nothing to show that he is any closer to fulfilling his “come what may” pledge to leave by Halloween. The “final offer” that the prime minister is expected to table in the EU negotiations, which leaked out overnight, seems a long way from anything that would be acceptable to Brussels. Already the Irish government has poured cold water on the suggested replacement for the backstop that is intended to prevent a hard border and the prime minister has admitted there would have to be customs checks on the island of Ireland. Yesterday cabinet ministers admitted that they had not seen, let alone approved the detail.
To the “do or die” mantra Johnson is now adding a “take it or leave it” threat to the EU. “To be clear we won’t be hanging around waiting for them to negotiate with us, if they reject our offer, that’s it,” the prime minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings was reported to have told a meeting of Tory aides. It is an ultimatum that is impossible for the EU to meet because this is, if the accounts of it are…