Belfast Telegraph

Ireland’s Varadkar says Johnson’s Brexit plan ‘falls short’

Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also said unless there were changes ‘there will be no deal’.

Irish PM Leo Varadkar with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Niall Carson/PA)
Irish PM Leo Varadkar with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Niall Carson/PA)

By David Hughes, Political Editor and Sam Blewett, Political Correspondent, PA

Boris Johnson’s proposals for a Brexit deal have been rejected by the Irish government.

The Prime Minister told MPs he has made a “genuine attempt to bridge the chasm” with the European Union by making compromises to strike a fresh Brexit deal.

Irish Premier Leo Varadkar said the Brexit plan “falls short in a number of aspects” while deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said “if that is the final proposal, there will be no deal”.

Downing Street said the proposals to address problems with the Irish border were the “broad landing zone” and the “basis for discussion” after Number 10 sources had previously claimed they represented a final offer to Brussels.

If that is the final proposal, there will be no deal, there are a number of fundamental problems with that proposal Simon Coveney

Mr Varadkar said he could not fully understand how the UK envisages Northern Ireland and Ireland operating under different customs regimes without the need for customs posts.

“We need to explore in much more detail the customs proposals that are being put forward as it’s very much the view of the Irish government and the people of Ireland, north and south, that there shouldn’t be customs checkpoints or tariffs between north and south,” he said.

Mr Coveney raised concerns about the plan to give Stormont a veto on the plan because its voting structures mean a bloc of MLAs from either the nationalist or unionist community – which includes Mr Johnson’s DUP allies – can block certain decisions, even if a majority of members back them.

“We cannot support any proposal that suggests that one party or indeed a minority in Northern Ireland could make the decision for the majority in terms of how these proposals would be implemented in the future,” he said.

In stark terms, he said the Prime Minister’s plan did not form the basis for a deal.

“If that is the final proposal, there will be no deal, there are a number of fundamental problems with that proposal,” he said.

Mr Johnson, who will have further talks with EU counterparts and European Council president Donald Tusk, told the Commons on Thursday that his proposals do not deliver all his Brexit desires but insisted they are better options than to “remain a prisoner” of the current situation.

But he accepted that they are “some way from a resolution” on the situation.

Mr Johnson urged MPs to “come together in the national interest behind this new deal” ahead of the October 31 Brexit date, but first he must get it passed by the EU, where reactions were becoming increasingly critical.

He said the plans represent “a genuine attempt to bridge the chasm, to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable and to go the extra mile as time runs short”, with a deal effectively needing to be agreed before an October 17 summit of EU leaders.

Jeremy Corbyn responded by saying no Labour MP could support the “reckless deal”, which he said would jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Johnson set out his plan to resolve the contentious issue of the backstop in a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

He followed this up with a phone call to Mr Juncker and held further discussions with Mr Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The PM’s attempt to compromise by keeping Northern Ireland tied to single market rules for trade in goods while leaving the customs union with the rest of the UK may not be enough for the EU.

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt said agreeing to the proposals would be “nearly impossible”.

The Brexit Steering Group he chairs said the proposals “do not match even remotely” what was required.

The PM said his plans had been driven by the need to “protect” and “fortify” the peace agreement, as he ruled out the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But even if he gets the support of EU leaders for a deal, he must get it through a Parliament that has so far been hostile to Brexit proposals.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn told the Commons: “No Labour MP could support such a reckless deal that will be used as a springboard to attack rights and standards in this country.”

The PM appeared to be building support from the DUP, Eurosceptics within his own party and some opposition MPs wishing to avert a no deal.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a statement to the House of Commons on his Brexit proposals (House of Commons/PA)

But their stances could well alter if Brussels insists on changes, as seems likely.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said “we have many questions on the text” of the Brexit proposal that “need to be answered by the UK and not the other way around”.

The plans require the suspended Stormont Assembly to approve the new arrangements, with a vote every four years.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the four-year limit “is the one that we believe is sensible”.

“A four-year limit also reflects the length of time which the Northern Ireland Assembly sits for from one election to another.”

Mr Johnson’s plans would see Northern Ireland apply EU rules on goods but stay in a customs territory with the UK.

This would create a regulatory barrier for goods crossing the Irish Sea and create a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – but Mr Johnson has insisted there would be no need for checks or infrastructure at the frontier.

PA

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