Johnson: Rubber about to hit the road in drive for Brexit deal
The UK is expected to submit its formal proposals for a Brexit agreement to Brussels within days.
Boris Johnson acknowledged that he faced “tough” negotiations with Brussels as he prepares to set out his formal proposals for a Brexit deal.
The Prime Minister accepted that customs checks could be needed in Northern Ireland but insisted they could be “minimal and non-intrusive”.
He expects to find out within days whether he can secure a Brexit deal with the European Union.
The Prime Minister’s formal proposals on measures to replace the controversial Irish backstop are due to be submitted after the Conservative conference and Mr Johnson said it would soon become apparent if there is “no way of getting it over the line from their point of view”.
Mr Johnson urged leaders in Brussels, Dublin and Berlin to work with him as the “rubber hits the road” on efforts to strike a deal ahead of the October 31 scheduled Brexit date.
The PM celebrated having made “huge progress” on a fresh deal and said he hopes to achieve a breakthrough in the coming days.
“I’m not going to pretend this is going to be easy, this is not a walk in the park,” he told a DUP event at the Tory party conference in Manchester on Tuesday.
“But we have made huge progress and I hope very much that in the course of the next few days we are going to get there.”
In a sign that Brussels could be prepared to offer concessions, reports suggested the EU had considered a time limit to the backstop.
But Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio: “If we put an actual time limit on the backstop, well then there is no onus, particularly on the UK side, potentially to find alternative solutions to the backstop that may be more permanent, because it will simply fall after a certain period of time.
“So if you’re talking about a backstop, If you can’t credibly answer the question, what happens on the border question at the end of it that time limits? Well, then it’s not a backstop at all.”
The Prime Minister and other members of the Government distanced themselves from briefings which suggested the UK had proposed a series of customs posts being built between five and 10 miles back either side of the Irish border.
— Ben Bradshaw (@BenPBradshaw) October 1, 2019
Johnson’s new proposals on the Irish border would be illegal under the Good Friday Agreement & the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act, I ask the Minister. He doesn’t know �� pic.twitter.com/y8uSTeoHEQ
But in a BBC interview he acknowledged that some checks may be necessary.
“If the EU is going to insist on customs checks as we come out as it is, then we will have to accept that reality.
“And there will have to be a system for customs checks away from the border.
“Now, we think those checks can be absolutely minimal and non intrusive and won’t involve new infrastructure.”
He added: “That is where the argument is going to be. And that’s where the negotiation will be tough.”
Former prime minister Theresa May had committed to avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.
But Mr Johnson acknowledged that policy had now changed, telling Sky News “the reality is, well, you can’t make both things work at once”.
“You have to accept that there’s got to be a change.”
He said proposals for an all-Ireland zone for animal health measures would also “logically imply some more checks down the Irish Sea”, something which could test the Prime Minister’s alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party.
But Mr Johnson said he believed the checks would be “liveable with, provided it’s done in the right way”.
His comments came after Dublin rejected proposals – apparently contained in a discussion paper – for customs posts along both sides of the Irish border to replace the backstop.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I very much welcome Boris Johnson’s words today when he disowned the non-papers, had he not, in my view, it would be hard evidence of bad faith by the UK Government.”
The backstop – a contingency plan which would keep Northern Ireland closely aligned to Brussels’ customs and regulatory rules if no other method is found of preventing a hard border – is loathed by Brexiteers and Mr Johnson is determined to remove it from the Withdrawal Agreement that predecessor Mrs May negotiated with the EU.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said: “We have not received any proposals from the United Kingdom that meet all the objectives of the backstop, as we have been reiterating and demanding.”
She added: “It’s the UK’s responsibility to come forward with workable and legally operational solutions that meet all of the objectives of the backstop.”
Meanwhile, The Times reported that Mr Johnson’s plan to get around the Benn Act – the law aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit without MPs’ approval – would be to ask EU leaders to rule out any extension to the October 31 deadline.
Mr Johnson denied that was the case, adding: “In truth, we have not made any such request.”
But he did appear to question whether the Benn Act had been drawn up in collaboration with other EU states following claims from Downing Street sources of “collusion with foreign powers”.
There is a “legitimate question” to be asked about how the legislation came about, he said.
Mr Johnson dismissed as “absolute nonsense” a suggestion by his sister that his Brexit strategy could be being driven by the Prime Minister’s hedge fund backers.
Rachel Johnson claimed last week that the tactics “could be from – who knows – people who have invested billions in shorting the pound” in the expectation of a no-deal Brexit”.