In a speech at the annual conference of his Conservative Party, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained his new proposals for an exit agreement with the EU. This includes customs controls around the border on the Irish island. If Brussels is not prepared to give serious consideration to this, the United Kingdom will not negotiate further and resign without agreement on 31 October, the prime minister said.
The new proposal in brief
- After Brexit, Northern Ireland will have a ‘separate status’ for four years
- Proposal would guarantee free movement of goods and people on Irish island
- Northern Ireland complies with EU regulations at that time
- No customs controls at or near the border, but controls with ‘technology’
Initial reactions from Brussels negative
Johnson’s proposals for a new exit agreement include “no customs controls at or near the border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Checks will be needed, but with the right technology, for example for the shipment of goods, they can take place at the companies in question and thus be kept to an “absolute minimum”, according to the prime minister.
“What the whole world wants is to finish this issue in a calm and reasonable manner and continue. And that is why we are leaving the EU on 31 October anyway. Let us complete the Brexit. We can and must do that” , Johnson said to members of his party in Manchester.
The Irish border issue is the main obstacle in the negotiations between the UK and the EU. The possibility of limiting customs controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland using technology has already been suggested. This idea was rejected by Brussels at the time because the required technology would not yet exist.
A more detailed outline of Johnson’s plans, in a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, was published by the British government later on Wednesday. Seven pages of explanations about the proposals were also made public.
The proposals resemble the exit agreement of his predecessor Theresa May, but a major difference with May’s plan concerns the Irish border. Johnsons describes his proposal on that front as “two limits for four years”.
According to the plan, the UK will retire on October 31, with the originally agreed transition period remaining until December 31, 2020. On 1 January 2021, the UK will then exit in full, leaving the European customs union.
Northern Ireland will be given a separate status: it will leave the customs union on 20 December 2020, but will then continue to comply with European regulations for four years, guaranteeing the free movement of goods and people on the Irish island until 2025 .
The Johnson government wants to give the Northern Ireland regional parliament the right to vote on the arrangement after the transition period. It can then be renewed or discontinued every four years.
Johnson’s current proposals are a “fair and reasonable compromise,” he said. The British Prime Minister called on the EU to be “more flexible” and to be open to the new technology to prevent physical border controls. He promised that the Parliament of Northern Ireland will have a say in the EU trade rules that it will have to adhere to.
EC president Juncker calls the British prime minister later on Wednesday to talk about the proposal and a German government spokesperson said the EC will look closely at Johnson’s proposals.
Johnson has already won a victory in his own country with his proposals. Although that would mean a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in the Irish Sea, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a major ally of Johnson, has agreed to agree.
Previously, that party considered a separate status for Northern Ireland to be completely unacceptable, but now the DUP regards it as a necessary and pragmatic compromise. In a statement, the party pledged conditional support to Johnson’s plans, but the DUP stressed that “more work” needs to be done in negotiations with the EU.
Brussels inadmissible for new proposal
Johnson ‘s proposals ignore some of the so – called “red lines” of EU positions on which the Union has shown itself unwavering since the start of the negotiations, such as the intention to prevent a porous European external border on the island of Ireland. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, responds in a statement that the new proposal is still “problematic” on some points. He said he was satisfied with the progress and that the committee would consider the legal part of the proposal “with the well-known EU criteria in mind”.
The Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts, who deals with the Brexit, said after Johnson’s speech: “This does not promise much good.” He stated that Johnson seems to be pushing for a ‘no-deal Brexit’ and wants to put the blame for that in the shoes of the EU. “If you want a deal, don’t make the European Union an enemy like he does, don’t make the parliament you need to accept a deal an enemy like he does.”
Anonymous diplomats and officials within the EU said before the speech to Reuters news agency that the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement – negotiated by May – may be the only option with some minor adjustments if the British want to reach an exit agreement before October 31. If that fails, then according to the sources, Brussels is willing to grant the UK a further delay.
A senior EU official called Johnson’s proposals “fundamentally flawed”. And an EU diplomat said: “This pilot is not going on. Johnson has opted for a confrontation.”
Johnson’s proposals were also received lukewarm in Ireland too. The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in the Irish Parliament: ”
Regarding the proposals that are on the table today: I do not want to comment on them until I have had a chance to look at them and study them. But it is certainly true that what we having heard so far is not promising and will not form the basis for an agreement, unfortunately, as I see it. “
Johnson is pushing for a new confrontation with parliament
The attitude of the Johnson government in the Brexit process is also at odds with the law passed by the British Parliament last month. This Benn law prohibits a no-deal exit on October 31 and obliges the Prime Minister to ask the EU for more delay in Brussels before October 19 (until January 31, 2020) if he fails to reach the European Council summit reach a new retirement agreement on 17 and 18 October.
“The government is going to negotiate a new agreement or prepare for a ‘no-deal Brexit’. No one will deal with the postponement,” a senior government source said on Tuesday.
The Johnson government has said it will “follow the law,” but the prime minister has since repeated many times that he refuses to request a postponement again. Despite the Benn law, it remains possible for the UK to leave the EU at the end of October without agreement, Johnson said. Johnson describes the law as a “deed of surrender”.
There are a number of legal and political tricks that Johnson can use to try to circumvent the Benn law, experts say. Because the current situation is unparalleled, it is not clear to what extent that chance of success is achieved.
During his speech in Manchester, Johnson lashed out in parliament. “If Parliament was a reality show,” he said, “we would all have been out of the jungle for a long time. But at least we would have had the pleasure of seeing how the President (of the House of Commons, John Bercow, ed.) had to eat kangaroo balls. ”
The Labor opposition party also had to suffer. Johnson denounced that the party wants new elections, but refuses to hold them until it is excluded that the UK will leave the EU without a deal at the end of October.