Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson closed the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester. (REUTERS: Henry Nicholls)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has released his long-awaited Brexit deal offer for the European Union ahead of the October 31 exit date, but it already has its detractors.
- Boris Johnston proposes an all-island regulatory zone to cover Ireland
- He said the plan presents a reasonable compromise, and the alternative was no deal
- Opposition parties have been scathing, saying the plan has no chance of success
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.
The plan would see Northern Ireland taken out of the EU’s customs union after the transition period, which would mean some checkpoints for goods travelling between the North and the Republic, but Mr Johnson said that could happen away from the Irish border.
“We are coming out of the EU on October 31, come what may,” Mr Johnson told party members on Wednesday as he addressed the Conservative Party conference in Manchester for the first time as prime minister.
“We are tabling what I believe are constructive and reasonable proposals which provide a compromise for both sides.
“I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn.
“Let us be in no doubt that the alternative is no deal.”
In a letter Mr Johnson sent to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, he said he wanted a deal that was in place by the European Council’s summit on October 17.
After a phone call with the British PM, Mr Juncker said the proposal included “positive advances” but that there were also “some problematic points” that will “need further work in the coming days”.
Mr Juncker said the “delicate balance” on the island achieved by the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of conflict must be preserved.
Mr Johnson was joined by his girlfriend Carrie Symonds after delivering his keynote speech. (REUTERS: Jeremy Selwyn)
The Irish backstop
Again the main point of contention between both sides is the so-called Irish backstop.
In its proposals to the EU on how to deal with the Irish border after Brexit, Britain suggested a zone of regulatory compliance across Northern Ireland and the EU to eliminate checks for trade in goods.
Before the end of a transition period after Brexit in December 2020, the Northern Ireland assembly and executive would be required to give their consent to this arrangement and every four years afterwards, the document said.
Northern Ireland would stay part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory but to avoid customs checks, a declaration system would be introduced with a simplified process for small traders, along with a trusted-traders scheme.
The document said the proposals would ensure the integrity of the European Union Single Market and would be in keeping with the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, which largely ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
“It is, as such, a proposal for an agreement which should be acceptable to both sides,” the deal document concluded.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who prop up Mr Johnson’s government and support British rule, crucially welcomed his proposals, saying they ensured that Northern Ireland would be out of the customs union and single market.
Deal ‘like putting your head in a crocodile’s mouth’
While Mr Johnson’s plans were welcomed by the party faithful and DUP, opposition parties were quick to lambast it.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the proposal was “not acceptable” and worse than the deal Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May put before parliament three times, only for it to be voted down three times by MPs.
Pro-Northern Ireland independence party Sinn Fein said the deal was a “non-starter”.
The party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill said the proposal drove “a coach and horses through the GFA (Good Friday Agreement)”.
@moneillsf: Today’s proposals drive a coach and horses through the GFA. The British Gov is offering an all-Ireland regulatory zone, yet makes these arrangements dependent on consent of the Assembly, effectively giving the DUP a veto. This is unacceptable. Sinn Féin will not concede this.
But the harshest criticism came from Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who’s party is slowly chipping away support from the Conservatives as the Brexit saga drags on.
“Boris only wants to change one part of the Withdrawal Agreement,” he tweeted.
“Despite his words there is no guarantee that we will leave the customs union, and any future trade deal needs good faith from the EU side.
“It’s like putting your head in a crocodile’s mouth & hoping for the best.”