Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

Boris Johnson sets out plans to do away with Brexit backstop

The Prime Minister revealed his final offer to the EU on Wednesday

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

Boris Johnson submitted his final Brexit offer to Brussels on Wednesday as he pledged to remove the controversial Irish border backstop and finally take the UK out of the European Union.

The British leader framed the proposal as a compromise for both sides that could end the dither and delay as London and Brussels have wrangled over the outcome of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

In his first Conservative conference since he became prime minister, Mr Johnson compared the UK parliament to a frozen computer displaying a “spinning pizza wheel of doom”.

Under the Prime Minister’s plans, Northern Ireland would remain in regulatory alignment with the EU for agricultural products as well as manufactured goods. But Northern Ireland’s Assembly and Executive will vote every four years to approve the arrangements and would have the power to exit them if it wants.

It will, however, be fully part of the UK customs territory to ensure that outside the EU the UK will be able to cut free trade agreements on its own terms with countries around the world. Mr Johnson said he wanted British businesses to export yachts to Mexico or music to North Korea on better terms through new trade negotiations.

Officials arrived at the European headquarters with the British letters moments after Mr Johnson warned that the only alternative to his ideas would be a no-deal Brexit, which critics fear could send the UK plunging into a recession and disrupt the European economy.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar speaking before he saw the plans, said he was not feeling positive. "What we are hearing is not encouraging and would not be the basis for agreement," he said.

The UK is set to leave the EU on October 31 after three years of delays, legal wrangling and arguments that have divided the country and parliament. There is a two-week window for intense negotiations to revise the Withdrawal Agreement struck late last year but subsequently rejected three times by parliament.

An EU summit then looms on October 17-18. In the meantime opposition MPs and Conservative rebels could seek to depose Mr Johnson and delay the deadline.

Parliament has enacted legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit but senior government figures have suggested they will try to find a way around this.

Eurosceptics like Mr Johnson are particularly disdainful of the backstop, the insurance policy to keep the Irish border open in the event of a no-deal, which they say will leave Northern Ireland connected to the EU indefinitely.

In a letter to Jean Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, Mr Johnson said the deal ensures UK trade will be under his government’s control from the start but the Irish border will remain open.

“The zone of regulatory compliance will mean that Northern Ireland will be, in significant sectors of its economy, governed by laws in which it has no say,” said a UK government letter.

“That is clearly a significant democratic problem. For this to be a sustainable situation, these arrangements must have the endorsement of those affected by them, and there must be an ability to exit them.”

Mr Johnson said “I hope that these proposals can now provide the basis for rapid negotiations towards a solution”.

The Prime Minister said he wanted to get a deal and it would “represent a failure of statecraft” if one is not reached.

“Both sides now need to consider whether there is sufficient willingness to compromise and move beyond existing positions to get us to an agreement in time,” he wrote.

“We are ready to do that, and this letter sets out what I regard as a reasonable compromise: the broad landing zone in which I believe a deal can begin to take shape.”

But Mr Johnson’s amended deal received support from the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who the government has a confidence and supply agreement with.

“The DUP has always indicated that the United Kingdom must leave the EU as one nation and in so doing that no barriers to trade are erected within the UK,” a statement read.

“This offer provides a basis for the EU to continue in a serious and sustained engagement with the UK government without risk to the internal market of the United Kingdom.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Johnson’s outline was worse than the deal rejected by Parliament and warned opponents would use whatever means they could muster to defeat the government.

Updated: October 2, 2019 08:49 PM

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