Boris Johnson out in the cold on Brexit as PM demands EU ‘compromises’
Downing Street said talk emerging from Paris of a deal needing to be in place by Friday were not helpful.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposals continue to be met by a stony silence, with face-to-face talks with European leaders yet to be scheduled this week.
With only 10 days left until the crunch European Council meeting on October 17, the Prime Minister has been left in the cold by the EU27 following the publication of his proposals for a deal last week.
Mr Johnson will hold telephone conversations with the leaders of Poland, Sweden and Denmark on Monday but there is “nothing in the diary at the moment” for him to travel to the Continent this week, Downing Street confirmed.
French President Emmanuel Macron upped the ante by saying the workings of a deal must be in place by Friday for any movement on a deal to be made at the Council meeting in less than a fortnight’s time.
But Downing Street said the imposition of such a deadline was not “helpful” and called on the EU to “match the compromises” made by the UK.
If you have issues with any of the proposals that we’ve come up with, then let’s get into the detail and discuss them Prime Minister Boris Johnson to European leaders
“I don’t think it is helpful for me to talk in those terms,” said the Prime Minister’s spokesman, when asked about talk of a Friday deadline being imposed by the Elysee Palace.
“The Prime Minister has been the first to set out we are under time pressure if we are going to leave the EU with a deal.”
He added: “We are ready to talk with the EU at a pace to secure a deal so we can move on and build a new partnership between the UK and EU.
“But if this is to be possible then the EU must match the compromises that the UK has made.”
The PM, speaking during a visit to a hospital in Watford, said it was up to Brussels to make the next move.
“What we’re saying to our friends is, this is a very generous, fair and reasonable offer we’ve made,” said the Conservative Party leader.
“What we’d like to hear from you now is what your thoughts are. And if you have issues with any of the proposals that we’ve come up with, then let’s get into the detail and discuss them.”
Mr Johnson set out plans last Wednesday to replace the backstop – the insurance policy against a hard border in Ireland – by keeping Northern Ireland in step with single market rules on goods but taking it out, along with the rest of the UK, of the customs union.
The draft idea would mean some form of checks on goods to ensure the correct tariff was being paid.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said it was a “very firm no” when asked whether the UK could compromise and keep Northern Ireland in a customs territory with Ireland in order to strike a deal.
“The Prime Minister set out in his letter on Wednesday to (European Commission president) Jean-Claude Juncker that we believed this provided a broad landing zone and that we were willing to engage on further discussions of our proposals,” said the Number 10 spokesman.
“But if your question is are we prepared for Northern Ireland to be in a different customs union territory to the United Kingdom, the answer is a very firm no.”
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is in the Netherlands to discuss Brexit with the Dutch foreign affairs minister.
Stef Blok tweeted to call on the Government to show “more realism and clarity”.
#NorthSeaNeighbours – Frank & honest discussion today with @SteveBarclay as good neighbours do. Important questions still remain on UK #Brexit proposals and more realism and clarity necessary this week. Full support for @MichelBarnier pic.twitter.com/7A0KUUmdb2— Stef Blok (@ministerBlok) October 7, 2019
The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, is at the European Commission to hold further technical-level talks.
A spokeswoman for the Commission said officials were available “24/7” for discussions.
Speaking at a briefing in Brussels, chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said: “Talks will continue today and this week in order to give the UK the opportunity to present their proposals in more detail and then we will take stock with member states and the European Parliament throughout the week.
“And, as we have said before, everyday counts in these talks.
“I think we have said many times that we are available 24/7.”
In Westminster, the Labour Party was accused of being the biggest barrier to preventing a no-deal Brexit after a cross-party meeting to scrutinise the Government’s new proposals ended in a divide.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was expected to meet the SNP’s Ian Blackford, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas – as well as Anna Soubry of the Independent Group for Change and Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts.
Following the talks, a senior Lib Dem source said: “The position Jeremy Corbyn is taking is that we can have an emergency Government, but only if he gets to lead it.
“They know they don’t have the numbers, but they are insistent they won’t work with anyone else.”
A source close to the talks said that while the Labour Party confirmed they would be unwilling to back any other candidate to lead an emergency government, every other party in the meeting expressed a willingness to support another candidate if that is what is required.
Meanwhile, legal action aimed at forcing the PM to send a letter requesting a Brexit extension has been dismissed by the highest civil court in Scotland.
The PM has so far said he will comply with the accord of the Benn Act, which demands an extension is requested if a deal is not in place before October 19, but still says Britain will leave the EU by Halloween regardless.
However, Brexiteer Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski said he was looking into mounting a legal challenge to the Benn Act.
Mr Kawczynski tweeted on Monday: “In discussions this afternoon with legal counsel as to whether we can challenge Benn Act that currently stops Britain leaving EU without a deal on October 31.”