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    Brexit: Progress in process but not in substance

    Technical-level meetings between EU and UK started this week in Brussels after having been suspended for some time. In London, after a number of Conservatives rebelled against the government, the parliament voted yesterday evening by 328 to 321 votes to seize control of the parliamentary agenda.

    Asked by journalists on Tuesday (3 September) if there had been any progress in the talks, the European Commission chief spokesperson replied that the very fact that the talks had been resumed could be seen as “progress in process” but admitted that there was no “progress in substance” yet.

    For that to happen, the British side would have to present concrete alternatives to the Irish backstop that would be compatible with the withdrawal agreement which has been negotiated but rejected three times by the British parliament.

    Such proposals have apparently not been submitted yet by the United Kingdom in any form. The spokesperson promised that the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier himself would announce if there was any progress in substance.

    According to a statement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, the chances of a deal had been rising in the last few weeks because the EU can see that “we want a deal, have a clear vision for our future relationship with the EU” but perhaps more importantly, “they can see that we are utterly determined to strengthen our position by getting ready to come out regardless, come what may” – that is, even with no deal.

    Johnson also said that his government would not going to hang around before the Brexit deadline on 31 October and presented what he called an ambitious spending round in security, education and health without specifying the costs.

    In his speech in the parliament yesterday, Johnson claimed, “There are practical arrangements that we can find which avoid anyone putting infrastructure on the Irish border. These have been well worked out and involve measures such as trusted trader schemes, transit provisions, frontier zones, reduced bureaucracy for small and local traders, and many others.”

    In London, the political turmoil and tension has been mounting after Johnsons statement on Monday when he indirectly mentioned the possibility of snap general elections to resolve the Brexit issue.

    If the parliament will vote for asking EU to extend the deadline, Johnson will try to trigger snap election before 31 October, something however which requires the approval of a two-third majority in the parliament. The Labour party is hesitant to elections unless the parliament first will vote to block a no deal Brexit.

    Although Johnson denied on Monday that he was launching an election campaign – “I don’t want, you don’t want (elections)” – observers interpreted his statement that he might call for snap elections in case he would lose the vote in the parliament. He has already suspended the parliament for a period of up to five weeks from next week until 14 October.

    “I want everybody to know – there are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay. We are leaving on 31 October, no ifs or buts,” Johnson said and seems prepared to breach any unwritten rules on governing.

    After the vote yesterday, he said that a delay would hand control of the negotiations to the EU and that elections would be the only solution if the parliament will vote to stop them.

    The United Kingdom lacks a written constitution that could prevent Johnson from circumventing the parliament and enforcing a hard Brexit without any deal with the EU despite warnings that it would result in economic chaos and might tear apart the country. Apparently, British democracy is not as perfect as we thought.

    The Brussels Times