Richard North, 01/11/2019  

Following on from yesterday's piece, we have an interesting intervention from the Irish minister for finance, Paschal Donohoe.

It comes in the wake of Corbyn's campaign launch where he tackled the Brexit issue head on. According to the Labour List edition of his speech, he said, "After three long years of Brexit division and failure from the Tories", adding, "we have to get this issue sorted. We need to take it out of the hands of the politicians and trust the people to have the final say".

This version had him promising that, "Labour will get Brexit sorted within six months". "We'll let the people decide whether to leave with a sensible deal or remain", the speech copy says, "That really isn't complicated. We will carry out whatever the people decide so that we can get on with delivering the real change Britain needs…".

In this version of his speech, Corbyn doesn't say, in so many words, that he is looking to renegotiate Johnson's deal, but that is how it has been reported. Osborne's Evening Standard, for instance, has it that Corbyn promised Labour would settle Brexit "through a fresh deal or by remaining in the European Union".

The Sun is more specific, having Corbyn declare that "We, the government will carry out whatever the people decide", then adding: "We will go into office and immediately open negotiations with the EU about a sensible relationship with Europe, that doesn't destroy jobs".

This "immediately open negotiations" phrase is repeated by Sky News, suggesting that Corbyn might have deviated from the advance copy of his speech.

Anyhow, it is this that quite evidently brings Paschal Donohoe into the fray. The Irish Times report certainly is in no doubt. It tells us that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged on Thursday to "get Brexit sorted" in six months and said he would "broker a new deal with Brussels and put it to the people in a referendum".

In response, Donohue is unequivocal, warning that the Brexit deal agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom will not be reopened. "The European Union", he says, "has made clear now that the withdrawal agreement as defined by the recent agreement between the European Council and prime minister Johnson, that is not something that’s going to be reopened. We say that after many, many years now of effort to get to this point".

He went on to say that it was a matter for the British people regarding who they elected. "But", he added, "I think it is important to emphasise now that this withdrawal agreement and the changes that have been made in relation to Northern Ireland is after an absolutely exhaustive process to get to this point, and years of negotiation".

Oddly enough, an early election has been on the cards in Ireland but Varadkar has decided not to proceed with it. He argues that it was not in the country's interests with so much uncertainty around Brexit. It could be a crucial time in the Brexit process and the UK general election could see changes to the political landscape in Westminster, he said.

In his view, it was possible that the Brexit Party could hold the balance of power or other parties could want to reopen Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement. Thus, he asserted, "We should not have a general election until we have some certainty around what is happening with Brexit and we don't have that yet".

Varadkar thinks that May 2020 is the "right moment" for an Irish general election because, by this time, the new UK government would have either secured the Brexit deal or have "guided the country through the worst of no-deal".

Nevertheless, the Irish prime minister needs to have a word with his finance minister, and reconsider the recent activities of the EU in agreeing to negotiate with Johnson.

Donohue can hardly say that there will be no further negotiations if the EU has already once broken its ban on reopening the withdrawal agreement. If prime minister Corbyn comes calling, are the "colleagues" really going to turn him away? How would they justify breaking the rules for Johnson and not for a new prime minister who would, in this case, have an electoral mandate.

All of this, of course, could be entirely academic as the Labour party is trailing badly in the polls and, by conventional assessments, the Tories have the contest in the bag. Yet, we are seeing a rash of articles in the legacy media, such as this one from Andrew Hawkins who writes under the headline: "As a pollster, this will be the hardest election to predict I can ever remember".

Polls or not, Corbyn seems to have had a relatively good day – which is more than can be said for Johnson. Given a frosty reception when he visited Addenbrooke’s hospital, with multiple reports repeating these videos appearing to show him being booed and jeered off the premises.

However, Cambridge – the home city of Addenbrooke's – is "Remainer HQ", where leavers have to go around in disguise. It is hardly surprising that Johnson got the reaction he did, although it was perhaps unwise for him to choose this location for one of his periodic PR stunts.

Equally unwise – if not more so – was president Trump, smashing convention by intervening directly in the UK election with an endorsement of Johnson. Interviewed by Farage on his LBC show, the president said:
Oh yeah, Boris and I have a great friendship, we've become friends. Boris and I, when he was running they were saying: "He's the Trump, he's the Trump". We have a lot of the same things going, I guess. Boris is a terrific guy, you know that he's a terrific guy. I think it was time for Boris, it was time you needed him.
Counselling that Farage and Johnson should get together as an "unstoppable force", his views of the leader of the opposition were far from complimentary. "Corbyn", he said, "would be so bad for your country. He'd be so bad, he'd take you in such a bad way. He'd take you into such bad places".

Reaction to this intervention is mixed, with some pundits suggesting it could be quite helpful to Corbyn, not least because there is still some residual sense of correctness which recognises that heads of state should not interfere in other country's internal affairs, and especially not at election times.

Away from such high politics, though, a BBC report caught my eye, on the effect of the damp squib of Johnson's no-Brexit was having on firms which had stockpiled essential material in anticipation of a no-deal. The piece cited Isla Rowntree, founder of the Ludlow bicycle-maker Isla, who said that the moving Brexit goal posts had been a drain on management time and energy.

"We're business people", she said. "We're not international economists. We're experts on bicycles and we're trying to diligently stay up-to-date with everything that's happening to inform our decision-making here". And in a cri de coeur, she added, "That's just overwhelming, trying to keep listening to the news to work out what's going on and what it means for us. To have been doing that for well over three years now. It's just exhausting".

We know just how she feels. And if she wants any help digging that ditch for Johnson to die in, we have just the thing (pictured).

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