Ireland and the European Union have warned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the UK is heading toward a no-deal exit from the EU unless it makes more concessions.
- Dublin says it cannot sign up to a treaty that does not safeguard an open Irish-British border
- The EU says it is united behind Ireland
- Both the EU and Britain are positioning themselves to avoid blame in the case of a no-deal Brexit
Mr Johnson has released his long-awaited Brexit deal offer — cast by British officials as the final offer to avert a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
Under his plan, the controversial Irish backstop would be replaced by an all-island regulatory zone, an effort to avoid a hard border between EU-member the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland.
But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who is key to any possible deal, said he did not fully understand how the British proposals might work, and that Dublin could not sign up to a treaty that did not safeguard an open Irish-British border.
“No party — not my party, not Sinn Fein, not the DUP — should be in the position to veto what will be the will of the majority in Northern Ireland and Ireland,” Mr Varadkar said
Mr Varadkar’s deputy, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, went further, saying that if Mr Johnson’s proposals were final then a no-deal Brexit lay ahead.
“My judgement is that Boris Johnson does want a deal and that the paper that was published yesterday was an effort to move us in the direction of a deal,” Mr Coveney told Parliament.
“But… if that is the final proposal, there will be no deal.”
European Council President Donald Tusk said the bloc remained fully united behind Ireland.
“We remain open but still unconvinced,” Mr Tusk said.
Mr Johnson made what his office said was his final Brexit pitch to the EU on Wednesday, offering a possible compromise on the most contentious issue that initially drew a cautious welcome by the EU.
Mr Johnson went further than many expected on trying to solve the dilemma over the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — with a proposal for an all-island regulatory zone to cover all goods.
This would replace the so-called “backstop” arrangement he said he could not accept.
Besides the concession, however, Mr Johnson proposed giving Northern Ireland’s institutions the ongoing power to abide by or exit the regulatory zone — a possible step too far for Ireland and the EU.
European Council President Donald Tusk said: “We remain open but still unconvinced.” (AP: Don Emmert)
Just 28 days before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU, both sides are positioning themselves to avoid blame for a delay or a disorderly no-deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson says he wants an agreement but insists there can be no further Brexit postponement.
The cool reception from Brussels to Mr Johnson’s proposal indicates just how far apart the two sides are on the first departure of a sovereign state from the EU, which was forged from Europe’s ruins after World War II.
Mr Johnson warned the bloc’s failure to listen to his new proposal would result in it sharing the blame for a likely chaotic divorce.
Failure to get both the 27 EU leaders and UK parliamentarians to back his plan would result in either a crash exit for Britain or a third Brexit delay this year.
Mr Johnson reaffirmed on Thursday he had no intention of seeking an extension despite Parliament’s instruction to do so should he fail to secure a new agreement over the next two weeks.
“We have shown great flexibility without our European friends,” Mr Johnson told Parliament.
“If our European neighbours choose not to show a corresponding willingness to reach a deal, then we shall have to leave on October 31 without an agreement — and we are ready to do so.
“But that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which all parties will be held responsible.”
Yet European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud insisted it was up to Britain to come up with a plan that worked for everyone.
“There are problematic points in the UK’s proposal and further work is needed,” Ms Bertaud said.
“But that work needs to be done by the UK and not the other way around,” she told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.
Many fear a “no-deal” Brexit could plug up long-established trade routes and unsettle financial markets. (Reuters: Yves Herman)
UK Brexit minister Steve Barclay has said all real talks had to start by this weekend to stand any chance of securing a deal before EU leaders met in Brussels on October 17.
“We need to move forward at pace, intensively,” he told BBC radio.
“All sides recognise that the alternative, no-deal, is disruptive.”
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called Mr Johnson’s plan “not workable” and “reckless”.
The pro-European Scottish National Party’s parliamentary leader Ian Blackford called the proposals “half-baked”.
“Secure an extension or resign,” he said.
Businesses across Europe fear a “no-deal” Brexit could plug up long-established trade routes and unsettle financial markets for weeks and possibly months.
An EU diplomat said the plan would need to be fundamentally reworked to become acceptable.
Mr Johnson, who has also tried unsuccessfully to hold an election, says he wants to strike a deal at the EU summit. But a law passed by his opponents in Parliament forces him to delay Brexit unless he strikes a deal, something he says is “pointless and expensive”.
While the divorce accord struck by Mr Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times by the British Parliament, Mr Johnson received cautious support on Thursday from many of the pro-Brexit Conservative parliamentarians who helped defeat Mrs May’s deal.
Steve Baker, the head of the influential eurosceptic European Research Group of Conservatives, described the Government’s proposals as “the possibility of a tolerable deal”.