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Boris Johnson went on the attackafter a string of Conservative gaffes overshadowed the start of his election campaign, declaring his intention to get his “oven-ready” Brexit deal through parliament quickly.
But in the first full week of campaigning Johnson also seemingly committed a gaffe of his own when heinsisted exporters in Northern Ireland would “absolutely not”have to fill in extra forms or submit to checks when they sent goods across the Irish Sea.
This contradicted the Brexit secretary, drawing accusations from the opposition and MEPs that the prime minister – who also saidNorthern Irelandhad a “great deal” since it would stay closer to the EU than the rest of the UK – did not understand his own exit agreement.
The business ministerKwasi Kwarteng insisted laterthat the prime minister was correct, despite the deal apparently requiring customs declarations for all goods shipped from Northern Ireland to Britain.
The Conservatives also came under heavy fire fordoctoring footage of Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, making it appear as if was unable to answer a question on Labor’s Brexit position, when in reality he provided a lengthy answer.
But the Tories receiveda big boost when Nigel Farage saidhis Brexit party would not contest 317 Tory-won seats to avoid splitting the leave vote after Johnson committedtoexiting the EU by 2020– see below – and pursuing a Canada-style trade deal.
Many observers saw this as a possible gamechanger, although the polling guruProf Sir John Curticetold the BBCits likely impact should not be exaggerated. It might, though, wipe out any potential Liberal Democrat advances from aLib Dem, Plaid Cymru and Greenpro-remain pact, Curtice said.
More good news for the Tories came with the release of a studyrevealing that more than1 millionlow-income, mainly leave-supporting voters who did not vote in 2017 are planning to do so this time, potentially affecting results in at least 40 Seats.
In Brussels, the incoming president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen,asked the UK to nominate a new UK commissioner– a request Johnson lookedlikely to comply with, albeit reluctantly– and her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker described Brexit as a perpetual cycle of “promises, promises not kept, and lies repeated over and over again.”
On the remain side,three tactical voting sites havebeen or are about to be launchedadvising people how best to vote to avert a Conservative majority – although unfortunately all do not agree. AndLabor promised “managed migration” for EU nationalsin the event Brexit happened, without saying how it would manage it.
But can Johnson take Britain out of the EU by the end of 2020?
Lest anyone forget, what has happened thus far on Brexit is merely the exit deal: the hors d’oeuvre. Assuming the agreement is eventually passed by parliament – a process that could take up more than a month – and the UK subsequently leaves the EU by 31 January, there remainsa deal on the future relationship to be negotiated.
The time available to negotiate this umbrella agreement, covering security, political and, above all, trade ties, has already been cut from two years to 11 months. The government insists it will never extend the transition period, but few experts believe it is possible to negotiate a deal and get it ratified around the EU in that time, raising the possibility of crashing out on (December) .
A first flashpoint next year could well be over who leads the talks for Britain: the Department for Exiting theEuropean Unionor Downing Street? Then the two sides must decide whether to pursue several parallel agreements, separating trade from issues such as science, education and international development.
All this will need to be accompanied by a mammoth legislative program and a Herculean effort to get new technical arrangements up and running – for example, HMRC has to put a new border in place in the Irish Sea. It is almost inconceivable that all this could be achieved by the end of 2020.
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Dominic Grieve is tryingto overturn the Tory majority he previously won in Beaconsfield.
Inthe Observer, Nick Cohen saysthere is no chance of avoiding a difficult political choice in the December election:
The only way, it seems, to stop one extremist in #NeverNeverLand is to vote for another. The only way to save #NeverNeverLand from a rightwing disaster is to vote for a leftwing disaster… Britain does not face a binary choice. After Johnson’s purge, the Tory benches will be full of hard-faced hacks determined to imposeBrexit, whatever the cost. Momentum will ensure the next batch of Labor MPs will contain more incontinent cranks than any country deserves. We are about to elect a parliament of freaks and fanatics… [But] we may have to experience a Johnson Brexit or a Corbyn government before enough voters turn against them. It is as if large sections of the population have reverted to childhood and must learn all over again that there are no fairies in our #NeverNeverLand, only monsters.
Sky’s Lewis Goodall pinpoints the dilemma that theBrexitparty’s decision not to contest 300 – plus Tory-won seats poses for remainers: