Belfast Telegraph

Johnson insists he is committed to finding new Brexit deal with Brussels

Leo Varadkar says Ireland has yet to see any ‘legally workable’ alternative to the Northern Ireland backstop.

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Boris Johnson has insisted he is committed to securing a new deal with Brussels ahead of Britain’s departure from the EU.

The Prime Minister, in Dublin for talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar, said he believed it was possible to secure an agreement ahead of the UK’s scheduled withdrawal at the end of October.

However, Mr Varadkar said that while Ireland was open to alternative solutions to the Northern Ireland backstop, they had yet to see any “legally workable” proposals from the UK.

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Mr Varadkar says he is willing to work with MR Johnson as a ‘friend and ally’ (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Johnson’s insistence he wants to see a deal follows the resignation at the weekend of work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, who complained she had seen little evidence ministers were trying to find an agreement.

Standing alongside Mr Varadkar, Mr Johnson said that a no-deal Brexit would represent a “failure of statecraft” by all concerned.

“I want to find a deal. I have looked carefully at no-deal. Yes, we could do it, the UK could certainly get through it, but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible,” he said.

“I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement. I do believe that a deal can be done by October 18 so let’s do it together.”

While he did not underestimate the “technical problems” involved in resolving the issue of the Irish border, he said the UK was ready to bring forward proposals to address the “full range of issues”.

They included the “electronic pre-clearance” of goods and the “unity” of the island of Ireland for agri-foods.

“Strip away the politics and at the core of each problem you find practical issues that can be resolved with sufficient energy and a spirit of compromise.”

Boris Johnson met with Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Boris Johnson met with Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar said that he was willing to work with the Prime Minister as a “friend and ally” but said that Ireland was not prepared to accept the replacement of a “legal guarantee with a promise”.

“Avoiding a return to a hard border is the priority of this government,” he said.

“We are open to all alternatives legally workable but we have not received such to date.”

Asked about the situation in the Commons, the PM said: “We will come out on October 31, and I’m sure that parliamentarians will see the wisdom of doing that and respecting, honouring, the referendum result – the democratic referendum result.

“And, I’m absolutely undaunted by whatever may take place in Parliament.”

The comments came as Mr Johnson was expected to ramp up the pressure on MPs to back a snap general election or face five weeks of watching the Brexit negotiations from the sidelines.

Parliament was scheduled to be suspended under the Prime Minister’s orders on Monday, in a move that would halt all business in the Commons until October 14.

But Mr Johnson will present MPs with a way out of an enforced holiday by giving them another vote on holding a general election before a final decision to prorogue is taken.

An Opposition law, dubbed the Benn Bill after Labour MP Hilary Benn, that would extend the Brexit deadline until January 2020 is expected to receive Royal Assent before prorogation kicks in, but MPs would be thrown out of Parliament almost immediately afterwards and face a nervous wait to see whether Mr Johnson will obey the legislation.

PA

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