Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Boris Johnson admits Brexit deal some way off

EU leaders push back against British proposals for new agreement

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson received plaudits at his party's annual conference but the EU response has been muted over his new Brexit plans. AFP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson received plaudits at his party's annual conference but the EU response has been muted over his new Brexit plans. AFP

European Union leaders have dismissed the prospects of an early breakthrough after UK prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled new plans to break the months-long Brexit deadlock.

Mr Johnson told MPs on Thursday that his proposals were "constructive and reasonable" but admitted he was some way from securing an agreement before the UK's planned departure from the EU on October 31.

"They do not deliver everything that we would have wished, " he told parliament. "They do represent a compromise."

He added: "While, as I stand here today, we are some way from a resolution, it is to the credit of our European friends that they have accepted the need to address these issues."

The proposals are an attempt to avoid border checks in Northern Ireland but senior EU officials indicated they fell short of what they needed.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said the approach “did not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop” amid concerns that the proposals threatened the hard-won peace after decades of civil strife in Ireland.

His deputy, Simon Coveney was blunter. "If that is the final proposal, there will be no deal," he said.

Senior EU leaders said they stood squarely behind EU-member the Republic of Ireland and also expressed concerns that it could disrupt the single market across the 28-nation bloc.

The EU said it was the UK's job to address the problems. "As we have said there are problematic points in the United Kingdom's proposal and further work is needed. But that work needs to be done by the United Kingdom and not the other way around," spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters.

Mr Johnson wants a new deal in place before October 17 before a summit of EU leaders.

The UK's plan involves continuing customs checks on the island of Ireland – split between EU member the Republic of Ireland and the North, which is part of the UK – but continued alignment of regulations struck during 45 years of EU membership.

But Northern Ireland’s Assembly and Executive will be able to veto arrangements with a vote every four years. The proposals would also allow the UK to try to strike trading agreements with countries outside of the EU.

Early soundings suggested that Mr Johnson's plans could receive the necessary parliamentary backing but key to any agreement is convincing EU leaders.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the plan was “flexible and creative” and told the BBC on Thursday that he hoped to be involved in intensive talks by the weekend with EU leaders. "Both sides recognise that the best way forward is to have a deal,” he said.

The UK opposition has accused the government of not being serious about a deal. Jeremy Corbyn claimed the deal was worse than the one secured by Theresa May, but was rejected three times by parliament.

The government is continuing to prepare for leaving the EU by October 31 even if a deal is not reached in the face of parliamentary opposition, which has moved to block such a move.

It has blocked the export of more than 20 medicines that are in short supply, in case of supply problems.

Updated: October 3, 2019 07:43 PM

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