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Boris Johnson: Brexit plan ‘genuine attempt to bridge chasm’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he has made a “genuine attempt to bridge the chasm” in order to get a fresh Brexit deal with the EU.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

He told MPs his plan – which would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods but leave the customs union – “represent a compromise”.

However, Mr Johnson said they were “some way from a resolution”.

Jeremy Corbyn criticised the “unrealistic and damaging proposals”.

And the European Commission has said there are “problematic points” in the UK’s proposal and “further work is needed”.

The UK government hopes to begin a period of intense negotiations with the aim of reaching a final agreement at an EU summit on 17 October.

The prime minister has said the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson appealed to MPs to support his Brexit plan – a change in tone seen from the stormy scene in Parliament last week, as BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley pointed out:

“This government has moved, our proposals do represent a compromise and I hope that the House can now come together in the national interest, behind this new deal, to open a new chapter of friendship with our European neighbours and move on with our domestic priorities, including education, infrastructure and our NHS,” Mr Johnson said.

His proposal aims to replace the Irish border “backstop” in the existing withdrawal agreement – which has been rejected three times by MPs.

The backstop is the controversial “insurance policy” that is meant to keep a free-flowing border on the island of Ireland but which critics – including the PM – fear could trap the UK in EU trading rules indefinitely. It has proved to be the sticking point in negotiations.

“I believe this is our chance and their chance to get a deal,” Mr Johnson told MPs.

He said the plan would mean there was no need for checks or infrastructure between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But Labour leader Mr Corbyn said: “The current proposals would damage the whole UK economy, the Northern Irish economy especially and would undermine the Good Friday agreement.”

He said the proposals “reject any form of customs union, something demanded by every business and industry body in Britain and every trade union”.

“They want to ditch EU standards on workers’ rights, regulations and consumer standards and engage in a race to the bottom,” he said.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the PM will “never have the consent of Scotland” for his Brexit deal, saying Mr Johnson “doesn’t grasp the reality of a workable backstop”.

“It is a half-baked plan from (the prime minister’s adviser) Dominic Cummings and his Brexit fanatics,” Mr Blackford said.

“The proposed deal is dead before it even left the podium of the Tory conference.”

Presentational grey line

What is in the plan?

Under Mr Johnson’s proposals, which he calls a “broad landing zone” for a new deal with the EU:

  • Northern Ireland would leave the EU’s customs union alongside the rest of the UK, at the start of 2021
  • But Northern Ireland would, with the consent of politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly, continue to apply EU legislation relating to agricultural and other products – what he calls an “all-island regulatory zone”
  • This arrangement could, in theory, continue indefinitely, but the consent of Northern Ireland’s politicians would have to be sought every four years
  • Customs checks on goods traded between the UK and EU would be “decentralised”, with paperwork submitted electronically and only a “very small number” of physical checks
  • These checks should take place away from the border itself, at business premises or at “other points in the supply chain”

The government is also promising a “New Deal for Northern Ireland”, with financial commitments to help manage the changes. BBC News