Boris Johnson expresses frustration with failure to move Brexit talks on

Boris Johnson has expressed his frustration at the failure to move the stalled Brexit negotiations on to the next phase, as Theresa May appeared to be running out of time to secure a breakthrough.

The foreign secretary is reported to have voiced doubts in cabinet about May’s plan to promise some form of “regulatory alignment” with the EU, in an attempt that has so failed to move the talks forward.

Speaking on his way to a Nato summit in Brussels on Wednesday, Johnson suggested the issues could only be resolved in the next phase of the talks. “The best way to sort it out is to get on to to the second phase of the negotiations where all these difficult issues can be properly teased out, thrashed out and solved,” he told Sky News.

He added: “What we are going to do, as the prime minister has repeatedly said, we are going to take back control of our borders, of our laws and UK cash contributions, and that’s the way forward. And we will come up with a solution, but that solution can only be discovered in the context on discussion on the end state of the UK’s relations with the rest of the EU.”

The prime minister had hoped to be heading back to Brussels as early as Wednesday after reassuring the DUP on the wording of the draft text that it vetoed on Monday. Instead the DUP is demanding “radical surgery” to the draft, leaving May facing an awkward prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, with little prospect of a breakthrough.

The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, is understood to have refused to take May’s phone calls to discuss rewording the text of a draft agreement. Meanwhile the pound has fallen against the dollar, adding pressure on May to reach a deal.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said it was impossible for May to insist there could be no hard border in Northern Ireland and rule out membership of the customs union, the single market and the jurisdiction of the European court of justice.

Inside the EU, both Ireland and Northern Ireland (as part of the UK) are part of the single market and customs union so share the same regulations and standards.

The only way to avoid a hardening of the border after Brexit is to ensure regulations and standards on both sides remain more or less the same in areas like food, medicines and so on. 

This might imply a permanent acceptance of EU rules – something that would be anathema to hardline UK Brexiters and the DUP, who reject anything that would "decouple" the North from the UK. 

David Davis told parliament that regulatory alignment would not mean adopting exactly the same rules as the EU but "mutually recognised" rules and inspections.

However, an official in Brussels countered that regulatory alignment would mean that the UK would have to implement rules from Brussels without having any influence over them.

What is the government’s plan for ‘regulatory alignment’?
Davis says the UK could continue to follow some rules of the EU’s single market. This would help avoid a hard border, but would also limit the UK’s ability to diverge from EU regulations.

What does the EU think?
Davis thinks the UK and EU can agree to meet the same aims, while achieving them in different ways. The EU believes this could see its standards on workers’ rights and the environment undercut.

Can it even work?
Parliament cannot bind its successors. This principle would mean a deal would never be completely secure for more than five years – putting its feasibility in doubt.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “It is very hard to see how you can reconcile those two positions, and that’s why the government has got into such a contorted position that unravelled this week.”

He added: “We think there should be a UK-wide Brexit approach. The government has made a mistake in suggesting there will be one option for Ireland that might be separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, and that’s unravelled.”

Pressed on whether Labour wanted continued membership of the customs union, Starmer said: “We say leave that option on the table. We certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

He claimed the stalled talks had exposed splits in the cabinet between those who accepted alignment with EU regulations and those who wanted to deregulate.

The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said it would be “intolerable” to bind the UK to EU regulations prior to trade talks, telling the BBC that the government was starting to “stare at the edge of what is a price that we simply cannot afford to pay”.

Former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan hit back, saying: “Walking away when the Brexiteers encounter difficulties they never bothered to anticipate is not in the national interest, betrays the futures of millions of young people and those who never wanted to leave in the first place.”

May was due to talk to Foster and the Sinn Féin leader, Michelle O’Neill, on Tuesday night but the DUP leader delayed her conversation with the prime minister, amid suggestions that the unionist party believed there was too much work still to be done on the wording of the divorce deal text.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Davis admitted that the government was seeking regulatory alignment with the EU in some circumstances, but insisted that it would be UK-wide and that it did not mean retaining exactly the same rules as the EU.

May was warned that she had less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatience within the EU over her handling of the process.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Matthew Weaver, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 6th December 2017 10.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010