Great Britain

UK and EU are miles apart on Brexit talks and deal is about to blow up

THE reality is the talks will blow up shortly.

This is the verdict of one Downing Street figure on the UK-EU negotiations.

The European Union is still finalising its opening position. But it is already clear the UK and the EU are MILES APART on how any deal would work — and moving further away from each other.

Brussels insists this country signs up to stringent rules on a “level playing field” and governance before the talks can proceed. This means they want the UK to agree to stick to a bunch of EU rules even after we have left.

At the same time, they want a structure where the EU’s own institutions have a key role in deciding if the UK is doing this or not.

The EU view is that the UK will ultimately agree to these demands because the EU is so much bigger.

One figure on the European side dismisses the idea that the UK and the EU are “sovereign equals”, pointing out that the EU has a population of 450million to our 60million.

They think economic reality and the threat of long queues of lorries at Dover will lead to the UK backing down.

But the Government is not going to do that. It thinks agreeing to these restrictions would destroy the whole point of Brexit: Our ability to do things differently.

Boris Johnson has been praising chief negotiator David Frost’s speech making this point as “magnificent” to anyone who’ll listen.

If the EU insists on these preconditions in the opening round of negotiations, scheduled for the first week of March, the Government will dismiss the talks as pointless.

Inside No10, they believe Brussels does not realise how much has changed since the General Election.

One source tells me: “The EU, understandably, are treating this negotiation like the previous one. But our hand is much stronger because of the mandate we’ve been given by voters.”

Downing Street hopes Frost’s speech this week will make the European side realise we are serious about not accepting EU preconditions.

One insider points out that Boris Johnson needn’t have an election until 2024 — so nearly every European leader would pay the price at the ballot box before he does for any economic disruption caused by the failure of negotiations.

When I asked one Secretary of State why the Government was so adamant that everything had to be settled by the end of this year, I was told: “If there are hiccups, it is better for them to happen in Year One of a government, not Year Three.”

It is not just on the future relationship that the UK and EU are heading for a row.

A figure close to the negotiations says they are “starting to wake up in Brussels to the fact we have a totally different interpretation of the Irish protocol”, which covers arrangements for the Irish border.

The appointments of Suella Braverman as Attorney-General and Brandon Lewis as Northern Ireland Secretary indicates the Government is preparing to take a robust approach.

This will infuriate the EU side, which believes these arrangements have already been agreed.

Interestingly, influential figures on both sides hope the blow-up in trade talks comes SOONER rather than later.

Why? Because they think it is only once the two sides have realised just how far apart they really are that the serious negotiations can begin.

A case of trust or bust for Boris

DOWNING Street is acutely aware that one of the biggest dangers to this government is LOSING VOTERS’ TRUST.

If people come to see this administration as just another bunch of politicians who don’t do what they said they would, then it is doomed.

No10 also knows that Boris Johnson’s opponents love to attack him as “untrustworthy”.

This didn’t hurt him too much at the election because voters regard most politicians as untrustworthy.

But if there was a clear and compelling example of him breaking his word to voters then that could change, and very quickly.

This explains why the promises made in the Tory manifesto are being treated as holy writ in government.

There is a serious point to Boris’s cringe-making call and response with Cabinet ministers about how they are going to hire 20,000 more police officers.

He knows they need to do this to show a sceptical electorate that he keeps his promises.

During the campaign, he admitted that the questions about whether he keeps his word made his “blood boil”.

The whole emphasis on promise-keeping is bad news for Heathrow and the third runway.

In 2015, Boris promised to lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop it being built. So if the bulldozers move in on his watch it will be acutely embarrassing.

This is one of the reasons why I think the third runway won’t end up happening.

If in the next few weeks the Mayor of London wins his judicial review against the decision to go ahead with it, I doubt the Government will appeal the verdict.

Windrush findings won't be Priti

THE Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is in trouble for the supposedly aggressive attitude she takes towards her top civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam.

But Patel is not the first Home Secretary to have difficult relations with him.

Allies of Amber Rudd believed that Rutnam should have gone when she quit over the handling of the Windrush scandal, which was as much an institutional failure as a political one.

Friends of hers believe one of the reasons why the review into it has yet to be published is that it makes clear that the institutional Home Office is to blame for what went wrong.

The ministers keep changing but the Home Office has not been “fit for purpose” for some time.

It is proof that effective government is going to require reform of Whitehall.

Trump's got the 5G hump

DONALD TRUMP’S anger at Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Chinese firm Huawei a role in the UK’s 5G network is not reducing with time.

I understand Trump spontaneously raises the issue with social confidants, as well as figures inside his administration. He complains about the “betrayal” it represents.

It isn’t just Trump who is cross. A host of Tory MPs are still pushing No10 to give an indication as to when the 35 per cent cap on Huawei involvement in the 5G network will be reduced to zero.

The question is whether Boris will have done anything to address these concerns before he heads to the US for the G7 summit and a meeting with Trump in June

Labour still gasping for air

BALLOT papers go out in the Labour leadership contest on Monday.

The contest hasn’t captured the public’s imagination and it has mostly served as a reminder of how in hock Labour still is to Corbynite ideology.

None of the three remaining candidates is proposing the kind of break from the Corbyn years that is needed.

Until it can break these shackles, Labour won’t be a national party again.

President Donald Trump releases his 2020 Presidential Election Super Bowl commercial

- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.