Richard North, 23/09/2019  

For what it is worth, yesterday was the second anniversary of Mrs May's Florence Speech.

In her peroration, she spoke of "a partnership of interests, a partnership of values; a partnership of ambition for a shared future: the UK and the EU side by side delivering prosperity and opportunity for all our people", concluding that this was "the future within our grasp". "Together", she said, "let us seize it".

Well, that "future" clearly wasn't within Mrs May's grasp and, two years later, we are no closer to seizing it. Even with (or despite) Johnson on his way to New York again to meet selected EU leaders, the chances of a resolution to Brexit seem even less likely.

Thus, Juncker's much-vaunted Sky News interview has rather been overtaken by events. As of yesterday's broadcast, the Commission president was convinced that "Brexit will happen", asserting that "we can have a deal".

What we know, of course, is that the interview was pre-recorded and the comments were made before Johnson's man had delivered his "non-papers" to Brussels.

With no progress made on the issues presented, therefore, we should take note of something else that Juncker was rather insistent on – that there will be a hard border in Northern Ireland if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

He makes it clear that Brussels will insist on checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic after a no-deal, stating the obvious: "We have to make sure that the interests of the European Union and of the internal market will be preserved", he says.

Then adopting a line similar to that used by Barnier, he said: "An animal entering Northern Ireland without border control can enter without any kind of control the European Union via the southern part of the Irish island. This will not happen. We have to preserve the health and the safety of our citizens".

He adds: "I'm not an architect of new border stations. The British have to tell us exactly the architectural nature of this border", asserting that the EU would be "in no way responsible" for the consequences of a no-deal. The blame, he says, would lie squarely with the UK.

Nevertheless, he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that there was still time for a deal to be done. And the recent talks with Johnson he describes as "constructive and partly positive". But the "partly" positive tells us all we need to know.

One thus gets the impression that Juncker is going through the motions – keeping the lines open until it becomes self-evident that there is no prospect of a deal. And that stands to reason – the blame game will potentially have a great deal of traction when the UK does go down without a deal.

And basically, that's where we seem to be going. Whichever way the Brexit "game" is analysed, I don't see it going any other way.

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