Richard North, 30/09/2019  

When Johnson, the serial liar, is interviewed by Andrew Marr about sensitive matters, such as Jennifer Arcuri, the only thing it would be sensible to expect is more lies.

But the technique is reminiscent of the late and largely unlamented Jacques "L'Escroc" Chirac. This is the man of whom it was once said that he could steal a pot of jam and when challenged - with his fingers still in the jar and the booty smeared on his lips - could look you in the eyes and say, without a blush: "Moi, monsieur? Mais je ne mange pas de confiture".

You can see the same technique at play with Johnson. Asked a "specific question" by Marr as to whether he declared an interest in respect of his relations with Arcuri, he simply batted it away, saying: "There was no interest to declare".

Similarly, he has a No 10 spokesman declare as "untrue" the allegation that he groped two women at a Spectator lunch. Edwardes, one of the recipients of Johnson's attentions, responds with a tweet, saying: "If the prime minister doesn't recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does".

With Marr, we also see the deflection technique in play as Johnson declares: "Let's be absolutely clear, I am very, very proud of everything that we did, and certainly everything that I did, as Mayor of London. And I may say that the current Mayor of London could possibly spend more time investing in police officers than he is investing in press officers and peddling this kind of stuff".

Predictably, Marr got no further with his line of questioning. But then, Chirac's alternative moniker, was "superliar" and, in our prime minister in office, we have another one exercising his black art.

This is a man who circumvents the normal rules of politics, a man so outrageously dishonest that most people simply cannot deal with it. Nevertheless, John Crace thought Johnson looked "shifty" and, towards the close of an uncomfortable 30 minutes, his eyes did their best to avoid the cameras.

Inevitably, we're not going to get anything sensible from Johnson where it comes to his intentions if he fails to get a new deal out of Brussels, and what happens on 31 October. The man is locked into his own narrative, certain that he is going to get a "good deal". But then, this is a man who claims he has been a "model of restraint" in his use of language in the Brexit debate.

However, despite that, one does see a hint of reality creeping in, as Johnson tells Marr he's "been having conversations with Brussels and will continue to work tomorrow and in the course of the next few days, right up until October 13th to see if we can get this thing over the line".

Without admitting that his original strategy of handbagging the European council on the 17 October is now in tatters, he is at least acknowledging a deadline of 13 October. He does not yet appear to understand that the last day the UK can submit credible proposals comes at the end of this week – giving an effective deadline ten days earlier than he claims.

But, with a serial liar at the helm, it was always going to be the case that we would have to look elsewhere for our information about Brexit. Even if Johnson accidentally told the truth, we would not know whether to believe him as there would be no way of distinguishing it from the background of lies and circumventions.

Interestingly, one useful source is a long article about Simon Coveney in the Irish Independent

Through most of the post-referendum period, we've tended to find the Irish press a far more reliable provider of information than the UK media, and this article again proves the point as the narrative describes "the shape of the EU and Ireland's approach" as "Coveney heaps pressure on Boris Johnson".

Coveney doesn't believe that anything the British side has proposed since Johnson took office as prime minister "is credible as an attempt to try to get a deal done".

With only just over a month to go, the Irish Government is now effectively saying Johnson has until the end of this week to table "credible" alternative proposals to the backstop - or else comply with the law and seek an extension to the Brexit deadline of 31 October.

Irish politicians do believe that the British government wants to get a deal but, says Coveney, "the real test of that, to be honest, is next week". He adds that, after the Conservative Party conference (which ends on Wednesday) "if there is not a serious effort on the British side to put forward a proposal that's credible, then I think we're into a very difficult space".

"If the British government is serious about getting a deal done you would expect that a credible proposal will come next week", he goes on to say and, if there isn't a deal, then on October 19 the British prime minister has to apply for an extension". Whether he does is "a matter for him", but Coveney thinks "it would be an extraordinary thing if a British prime minister didn't act in compliance with the law".

Coveney says that Johnson has been told what he needs to do to achieve a deal, and that it is now up to him to bring forward proposals. But, he says, there has been a "fundamental shift" from Theresa May's position. "Boris Johnson's approach is very different".

Summing up that approach, we are reminded that Johnson wants, "divergence from the European regulatory model" and "he wants to remove the backstop from the withdrawal agreement".

By doing both of those things, or saying both those things, Coveney says, "what he's doing is he's removing a really important guarantee and solution - albeit a temporary one - in the backstop to reassure people that on the island of Ireland, that they won't face border infrastructure as a consequence of Brexit, and at the same time, he's making the likelihood of that problem significantly worse".

Putting the lid on Johnson's now frustrated ambitions of a showdown in Brussels, Coveney confirms that the EU would not negotiate at the European Council on 17-18 October. The technical and legal elements of a deal would need to be hammered out before then.

But it gets worse. Even if, against the odds, a deal can be done, Coveney believes negotiating a free-trade agreement with the EU would take the UK at least four years. "There's an automatic two years initially; the UK has the option to extend that to four years if they want. I think we need all of that time, too". In effect, Coveney believes it could be late 2023 before the UK actually leaves the EU.

Yet, we are still left perilously close to a no-deal scenario. This will force the Irish Government to introduce new tariffs on goods and customs checks to comply with EU single market rules, while at the same time avoiding infrastructure and instability along the Northern Ireland border.

Secret talks between the Irish government and the European Commission about how to do this are ongoing and still have a "few weeks left", Coveney says. But, for the first time, he confirms that not all customs and regulatory checks will come into force immediately after a no-deal Brexit on 31 October. Instead, there will be a timeline for the rollout of such measures that will be agreed with the Commission.

Thus, the Irish government and the Commission "will have to agree both what we need to do in terms of checks, how they operate and where they operate, and a timeline for the implementation because, for pragmatic reasons, all of this is not going to be done by the end of October".

Coveney adds. "That was never the case, and so there will be the actual reality of what we need to do and a timeline agreed with the European Commission. Both of those issues are under discussion at the moment".

He states that: "Some of the [single market] integrity issues will need to be dealt with, I think, immediately after a no-deal happens, should that happen. I think other elements, we would get some time and space to do it over time".

"There are a series of elements to the responsibility of maintaining Ireland's place in the single market, from customs to SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) to regulatory checks. So we need solutions for all of those things. Some of them are easier done than others", he then says.

As to whether checks will take place near the Border, Coveney is vague. He says: "We've said that they won't be on the Border. But I'm not in a position to outline to people where they will be until we have an agreement with the Commission as to how that's going to work".

And yet, Coveney hopes in the next few weeks we can surprise people and get a deal done that can allow us all to move forward. But that, indeed, would be a surprise.

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