Brexit: PM insists deal is possible as he holds DUP talks

Media captionPM: Government doing what the people want

Boris Johnson has said “there is a way” of getting a new Brexit deal with the EU as he holds talks with Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster.

The PM said “loads of people” wanted an agreement, but he was prepared to leave without one if “absolutely necessary”.

But the Northern Irish party warned any solution leading to trade borders with the rest of the UK was a “non-runner”.

Parliament was dramatically suspended for five weeks on Tuesday after MPs rejected calls for an early election.

MPs are not now due to return to Westminster until 14 October.

Amid unprecedented scenes in the Commons early on Tuesday, some MPs protested against the suspension with signs saying “silenced” while shouting: “Shame on you.”

But Mr Johnson said claims this was an affront to democracy were a “load of nonsense”, saying the opposition parties had been given the chance of an election before the Brexit deadline on 31 October but spurned it.

Media captionSome MPs voiced their objection to the suspension in the Commons

Opposition MPs said a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must be enforced first before there could be any election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised a further referendum on Brexit with a “credible Leave option” versus Remain if he wins the next general election – but the party is unlikely to commit to one or the other in its manifesto.

Key sticking point

Ahead of their talks in Downing Street, the Northern Irish DUP insisted their influence over Brexit events was “not waning” despite Mr Johnson’s government losing its Commons majority.

The party, which has propped up Theresa May’s government since the 2017 election, said it would not support any revised version of the former PM’s Brexit agreement which separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The Irish border has proved a key sticking point in attempts to agree a Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.

The government has indicated it could support harmonised rules for the agriculture and food sector to prevent the need for any sanitary and other health checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Media captionBrexit: What happened on Monday?

But it has distanced itself from reports that plans for a single EU-UK customs territory in the current withdrawal agreement – rejected three times by MPs – could be replaced with a specific Northern Ireland only “backstop” arrangement.

The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said a considerable number of Tory MPs would look to the his party to judge the likely success of any new proposals.

“We are plugged into the ongoing discussions about alternative arrangements, we have a significant role to play and, therefore, I would argue that our influence remains,” he told Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“I don’t see the prime minister, who appointed himself as the minister for the Union, agreeing to an arrangement that separates Northern Ireland from Great Britain in trading terms,” he said.

“I think that this idea that you have a Northern Ireland-only backstop where you have a trade border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is simply a non-runner.”

Although official negotiations with the EU have yet to restart, the bloc’s new trade commissioner said it was positive the UK seemed prepared to “accept some level of divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”.

“I remain hopeful that the penny is finally dropping with the UK that there are pragmatic and practical solutions that can actually be introduced into the debate at this stage – albeit at the eleventh hour – that may find some common ground between the EU and the UK,” Ireland’s Phil Hogan told the Irish Times

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PA Media

Image caption

The prime minister discussed the difference between Sparta and Athens, among other topics, on a trip to a school

Parliament was suspended – or prorogued – at just before 02:00 BST on Tuesday.

As Speaker John Bercow – who earlier announced his resignation – was due to lead MPs in a procession to the House of Lords to mark the suspension, a group of angry opposition backbenchers tried to block his way.

Late into the night, MPs also burst into song on the Commons benches, singing traditional Welsh and Scottish songs, Labour anthem Red Flag and hymns like Jerusalem.

During the five-week suspension, parties will hold their annual conferences but no debates, votes or committee scrutiny sessions will take place.

Boris Johnson will not face Prime Minister’s Questions until the period is over and his scheduled questioning by the Commons liaison committee on Wednesday has been cancelled.

Parliament’s suspension means MPs will not get a third chance to vote for an early election until they return, meaning a poll would not be possible until November at the earliest.

In Monday’s latest vote, 293 MPs backed the prime minister’s motion for an early election, far short of the two thirds needed.

Speaking during a visit to a primary school in London, Mr Johnson dismissed suggestions that suspending Parliament for more than a month was anti-democratic.

“What a load of nonsense. We were very, very clear, that if people wanted a democratic moment, if they wanted an election, we offered it to the Labour opposition and mysteriously they decided not to go for it.”

New legislation, which was granted royal assent on Monday, will force the prime minister to seek a delay until 31 January 2020 unless a deal – or a no-deal exit – is approved by MPs by 19 October.

But Mr Johnson said getting ready to leave the EU on Halloween was among the “people’s priorities”.

He said there “were loads of people around the place”, including in Brussels, who wanted to nail down an agreement but he was willing to leave without a deal “if absolutely necessary”.

“There is a way of getting a deal but it will take a lot of hard work – but we must be prepared to come out without a deal.”

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Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and Plaid Cymru have refused to agree to an election on what they say “Boris Johnson’s terms”.

Speaking at the TUC Congress on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn said “our priority is to stop no deal – and then have a general election”.

He said Labour was “ready to unleash the biggest people-powered campaign we’ve ever seen”, but “won’t allow Johnson to dictate the terms” of any poll.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are seeking to put distance between themselves and Labour by saying that if they win power at the next election they would have an “unequivocal” mandate to cancel Brexit entirely.

At their conference on Sunday, members will debate a motion reaffirming their support for a referendum, but also urging the revocation of Article 50 – the legal process for leaving the EU – a week before the Brexit deadline if no deal has been agreed.

The prime minister’s self-imposed Halloween Brexit deadline looks further out of reach than a few short days ago.

Is it impossible? Absolutely not.

There is the possibility, still, of a deal, with Number 10 today stressing it was still their primary aim.

Whispers again about a Northern Ireland only backstop, and a bigger role for the Stormont assembly, if it ever gets up and running, are doing the rounds.

Some MPs and some diplomats are more cheerful about the possibilities of it working out.

If you squint, you can see the chance of an agreement being wrapped up at pace, although it seems the chances range somewhere between slim and negligible.

Read more from Laura.

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