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Queen sets out Johnson’s Brexit priority

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth set out Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s agenda for his government on Monday, including an Oct. 31 Brexit, a new deal with the European Union, and a host of domestic policies designed to win over voters ahead of an expected election.
The so-called Queen’s Speech is the highlight of a day of elaborate pageantry in Westminster and is used to detail all the bills the government wants to enact in the coming year. It is written for the 93-year old monarch by the government.
But, with Brexit in the balance before a crucial week of talks, and an unpredictable election likely in the near future, rival parties said Johnson was misusing the politically-neutral queen by asking her to set out his election agenda.
“My government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October,” the queen said from parliament’s gilded House of Lords debating chamber.
“My government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly cooperation”.
The government’s plans included an outline of Johnson’s proposed post-Brexit immigration system, criminal justice reforms, healthcare changes, and a promise to invest more from the public purse to stimulate growth.
“People are tired of stasis, gridlock and waiting for change,” Johnson said in a written statement accompanying the speech. “And they don’t want to wait any longer to get Brexit done.”
But Johnson’s political future and his ability to implement any of this agenda is highly uncertain. He runs a minority government and has been unable to win a single vote in parliament since taking power in July.
All parties want an early election, but disagree over when it should be held.
The opposition Labour Party said the queen was being used to promote a Conservative Party election manifesto.
“What we’ve got in effect is a party political broadcast from the steps of the throne,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a Sky News interview broadcast on Sunday.
The speech is now subject to several days of debate, concluding with votes to approve it. While not an official vote of confidence, these could be used to further destabilise Johnson’s position.
Agencies add: A deal to smooth Britain’s departure from the European Union hung in the balance on Monday after diplomats indicated the bloc wanted more concessions from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and said a full agreement was unlikely this week.
As the Brexit maelstrom spins ever faster, Johnson and EU leaders face a tumultuous week of reckoning that could decide whether the divorce is orderly, acrimonious or delayed yet again.
Johnson says he wants to strike an exit deal at an EU summit on Thursday and Friday to allow an orderly departure on Oct. 31 but if an agreement is not possible he will lead the United Kingdom out of the club it joined in 1973 without a deal – even though parliament has passed a law saying he cannot do so.
EU politicians such as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a deal was possible and that much more work was needed. But EU diplomats were pessimistic about the chances of Johnson’s hybrid customs proposal for the Irish border riddle.
After more than three years of Brexit crisis and tortuous negotiations that have claimed the scalps of two British prime ministers, Johnson will have to ratify any last-minute deal in parliament which will sit in an extraordinary session on Sunday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War.
As EU ministers meet in Luxembourg ahead of the leaders’ summit, Johnson’s planned legislative agenda will be read out by Queen Elizabeth at the state opening of parliament.
If Johnson is unable to clinch a deal, an acrimonious divorce could follow that would divide the West, roil financial markets and test the cohesion of the United Kingdom.
The pound was down 0.6% at $1.2568, the day’s low. Against the euro, the British currency was also 0.6% weaker at 87.76 pence. Britain will hold a budget on Nov. 6.
The main sticking point remains the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland: how to prevent it becoming a backdoor into the EU after Brexit without erecting controls that could undermine the 1998 peace agreement that largely ended three decades of sectarian violence.
To get a done deal, Johnson must master the complexities of the Irish border before getting the approval of Europe’s biggest powers and then sell any deal to the parliament in which he has no majority and which he suspended unlawfully last month
The details of Johnson’s proposals have not been published but are essentially a compromise in which Northern Ireland is formally in the United Kingdom’s customs union but also informally in the EU’s customs union.
The main sticking point from the EU side is customs. The EU is worried it would be impossible to ensure goods entering Northern Ireland do not end up in the EU and is concerned about the complexity of a system for charging tariffs on goods moved between Britain and Northern Ireland.
“Such a hybrid customs territory like the British are proposing for Northern Ireland does not work anywhere in the world, it seems,” the EU diplomat said.
“With this kind of system, with two sets of rules for the same goods crossing the same border, there is more possibility for fraud and it’s extremely complicated to distinguish between goods heading for Northern Ireland, or further to Ireland and the single market.”
In a sign that the Brexit optimism which followed Johnson’s meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar last week may have been premature, EU diplomats now say the best chance of a deal would be to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union.
That would be a step too far for Johnson’s Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, and many Brexit supporters in his party.
If he fails to strike a deal with the EU, a law passed by his opponents obliges him to seek a delay – the scenario that EU diplomats think is most likely.

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