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PM says Brexit proposals are a better compromise than to ‘remain a prisoner’

Boris Johnson admitted his plans were ‘some way from a resolution’.

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

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

Boris Johnson has told MPs he has made a “genuine attempt to bridge the chasm” with the EU by making compromises to strike a fresh Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister told the Commons on Thursday that his proposals do not deliver all his departure desires but insisted they are better options than to “remain a prisoner” of the current situation.

But he acknowledged in his statement a day after he shared his proposals with Brussels that they are “some way from a resolution”.

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The PM addressed MPs (Victoria Jones/PA)

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

“This Government’s objective has always been to leave with a deal and these constructive and reasonable proposals show our seriousness of purpose,” the PM said.

“They do not deliver everything that we would’ve wished, they do represent a compromise, but to remain a prisoner of existing positions is to become a cause of deadlock rather than breakthrough.

“So we have made a genuine attempt to bridge the chasm, to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable and to go the extra mile as time runs short.”

No Labour MP could support such a reckless deal that will be used as a springboard to attack rights and standards in this country Jeremy Corbyn

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

The PM’s plea to the House came after he updated his Cabinet at Number 10 and ahead of further calls to European leaders as he seeks to strike a deal for the EU summit on October 17.

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

Mr Johnson followed this up with a phone call to Mr Juncker and held further discussions with Irish Taoiseach Leo 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.

Mr Juncker and Mr Varadkar both expressed concern that the return of customs controls threatened the Good Friday Agreement guarantee to maintain an open border with the Republic.

Mr Varadkar said the proposals “do not fully meet the agreed objectives” of the backstop, while the commission president said there were some “problematic points”.

Ireland’s deputy premier Simon Coveney ruled out supporting a deal that gives a Stormont party a veto over the post-Brexit arrangements and was critical of Mr Johnson’s customs proposals.

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

“It’s mainly repackaging the bad ideas that have already been floated in the past,” the MEP told Channel 4 News.

The PM said his proposals 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 told reporters that “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”.

Nationalists in Northern Ireland have expressed anger over a proposal requiring the suspended Stormont Assembly to approve the new arrangements, with a vote every four years.

There was also criticism in the Republic due to Stormont voting structures meaning a bloc of MLAs from either the nationalist and unionist community can veto certain decisions, even if a majority of members back them.

Mr Coveney told the Dail in Dublin: “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.

“That is not consistent with the Good Friday Agreement. It is not something we could possibly support as part of any final deal.”

Under the plan, the arrangements would start in 2021 at the end of the proposed transition period if there was no long-term trade agreement at that point and would continue until one was in place.

An explanatory note from the Government said a system of declarations for goods traded between the North and the Republic meant only a “very small proportion” would be subject to physical customs checks.

When they were necessary, it said that they would take place well away from the border, at the traders’ premises or other designated locations.

At the same time, the plan proposes a “zone of regulatory compliance” covering the entire island of Ireland, tying the North to EU rules for the trade in manufactured goods and agri-food products.

PA

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