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Deal or no Deal? That is the question.

The problem with Boris Johnson's strategy on Brexit is that he has closed his options.  His government have devoted so much attention convincing Brexit supporters that Britain would do great if it left the EU without a deal, that it is now difficult for him to justify a deal.  Why bother with an agreement if 'no-deal' is such a good proposition?

The answer, of course, is that a deal is necessary, and even if the UK left without one, a trade deal with the EU would have to be negotiated.  Just as the UK would need a trade deal with the USA, so also it would require an agreement with the EU.

So, none of this political mess is really about a deal or no deal.  A future trading arrangement with the EU will take time to agree.  That is so for all trade deals.  They are years in the making.

The argument, now, is about the "backstop"; the arrangement that would kick in if a trading arrangement isn't forthcoming.  The backstop is necessary to keep the border with Ireland open.

This is not a problem invented by the EU to keep the UK in the EU.  An open border is a commitment made in a Treaty with Ireland and is an essential part of the Good Friday peace agreement. It allows free movement across the border.

The primary concern is that it hands control to the EU to determine whether or not the backstop remains in place.  It 'traps' the UK in a position where it has to accept EU regulations but with no say in what those rules are.  It is a tricky problem.

The EU has passed the ball to the UK government to come up with a workable alternative to the backstop - something that would keep the border open.  Boris Johnson accepted the challenge to come up with an alternative. But as far as can be seen, little or nothing has been put on the table.

This does not mean a deal is not possible before the 31st October deadline.  Unless the government has taken leave of its senses, some kind of fudge is still a possibility.   Boris will dress it up to look good and tell the country he has fulfilled the wishes of voters and delivered Brexit.

Who knows? This might be a winning strategy, but for the dog barking at the door.  Nigel Farage has made it clear that he would campaign against such a deal -  and that might be enough to tip the balance against Johnson winning.

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