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Johnson preparing for 'intensive discussions' in bid to get Brexit deal over the line

So far, European leaders have reacted coolly to his plan.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday.
Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/PA Images

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson is preparing for 10 days of “intensive discussions” as he seeks backing from EU leaders for his Brexit blueprint.

Johnson has said he wants to get an agreement in place by the EU summit on 17 October, paving the way for Britain to leave the bloc with a deal at the end of the month.

With the agenda for such meetings generally set several days in advance, he acknowledged there was “very little time” left.

So far, however, European leaders have reacted coolly to the plan. Some politicians have suggested Johnson deliberately put forward a deal he knows the EU will reject.  

Johnson set out his plan in a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday, to resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

In the letter, Johnson said the Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by the UK parliament three times, and the current proposal would “remove” the backstop from that Brexit deal.

In short, the proposals suggest regulatory checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and custom checks on goods going between Ireland and Northern Ireland:

…The creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering not just sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and agri-food rules but all goods, thus eliminating regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland;
make this regulatory zone dependent on the consent of those who live under it, through the Northern Ireland institutions;
ensure that Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory, not the EU customs territory, after the end of the transition period, with all customs processes necessary to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes taking place electronically, and with the small number of physical checks needed conducted at traders’ premises or other points on the supply chain. This should be coupled with a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke to Johnson over the phone yesterday evening. Varadkar said the proposals do not fully meet “the agreed objectives of the backstop”.

But he also indicated he would study them in further detail, and would consult with his EU colleagues, adding that he wants to see a deal agreed and ratified.

‘Little chance of success’ 

The proposals are being dismissed by most commentators: former No 10 advisor and EU expert Raoul Ruparel said that the plan has “little to no chance of success”.

“[It means] the prospect of a hard border if the DUP don’t agree in the Northern Ireland Assembly; significant exemption from UCC and VAT, questioning integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union; and a big change to way of life on island of Ireland, burdensome for businesses,” Ruparel tweeted. 

Sinn Féin said the proposed plan would effectively hand a veto to Johnson’s allies, the DUP.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the proposals were worse than Theresa May’s deal and warned that Johnson appeared intent on a no-deal Brexit. 

Johnson will update his Cabinet, back from the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, in Downing Street today. 

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha and Press Association

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Órla Ryan

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