UK’s Johnson to bring ‘final’ Brexit proposals forward

UK’s Johnson to bring ‘final’ Brexit proposals forward

British prime minister to offer last-ditch compromise at Tory conference, but says there will be no delay to breaking with the EU, no matter if a deal is struck or not

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares his keynote speech for the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, northwest England, on October 1, 2019 which he'll deliver on the final day on October 2. (Stefan Rousseau / POOL / AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares his keynote speech for the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, northwest England, on October 1, 2019 which he'll deliver on the final day on October 2. (Stefan Rousseau / POOL / AFP)

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Prime Minister Boris Johnson will submit “final” proposals for a new Brexit agreement on Wednesday, officials said, warning that if the European Union did not engage with them, Britain would leave the bloc this month with no divorce deal.

Johnson will provide details of the “fair and reasonable compromise” during his closing speech to his Conservative party’s annual conference, Downing Street said.

But a statement issued late Tuesday stressed this was a “final offer” and Johnson would be keeping his pledge to leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal.

“If Brussels does not engage with the offer made tomorrow, then this government will not negotiate further until we have left the EU,” the statement said.

Johnson would “in no circumstances” seek to delay Brexit at the upcoming Brussels summit on October 17 and 18, it said.

The prime minister is expected to tell delegates in Manchester, northwest England: “Let’s get Brexit done — we can, we must and we will.”

Johnson, a leading campaigner in the 2016 EU referendum, took office in July vowing to deliver Brexit at the end of this month no matter what.

Pro-Brexit supporters outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

But like his predecessor Theresa May, he has struggled against a hostile parliament and the complexities of untangling four decades of integration with the European Union.

He has pledged to renegotiate the exit terms May agreed with Brussels, which were rejected by the British parliament three times.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier Tuesday the EU was open to proposals “that would be compatible” with the current divorce deal.

But in their absence, the scenario “of a withdrawal on October 31, of a no-deal exit, is the most plausible,” he told French lawmakers.

Carmaker Nissan meanwhile warned that a no-deal Brexit could see it review its decision to make a new Qashqai model in Britain, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Border troubles

Johnson is focused on reworking the so-called backstop plan in May’s deal, which aims to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

May’s proposal would have kept Britain in an effective customs union with the EU, which critics argued would force London to abide by the bloc’s rules indefinitely.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Johnson instead wanted to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market until 2025, but in a customs union with the rest of Britain.

This would create two potentially new borders — regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, and customs checks on the island of Ireland.

Johnson earlier denied a media report that he was looking at installing customs posts along the Irish border, amid outrage from Dublin.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference on the steps of the Government buildings in Dublin on September 9, 2019. (Lorraine O’SULLIVAN / AFP)

The issue is hugely controversial, as the removal of border posts was seen as key to bringing peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of violence over British rule that left thousands dead.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “No British government should seek to impose customs posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.”

But Johnson said it was “reality” that there would have to be checks somewhere after Brexit.

“We think those checks can be absolutely minimal and non intrusive and won’t involve new infrastructure,” he told the BBC.

Hostile parliament

Theresa May twice delayed Brexit as she tried and failed to get her deal through the House of Commons.

Johnson has also faced significant opposition among MPs, and lost his wafer-thin Commons majority during a rebellion over his EU strategy earlier this month.

Twenty-one Tory MPs worked with the opposition parties to pass a law demanding the prime minister ask the EU to delay Brexit again if he fails to get a deal agreed in time.

Johnson, who was last week slapped down by Britain’s Supreme Court for unlawfully trying to suspend parliament, insists he will never ask for a delay.

Anti-Brexit activists demonstrate with a model of Theresa May outside the Houses of Parliament in London on April 1, 2019. ( ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)

But while his tough talk is popular with Conservative members and many Brexit voters, the only clear way to get what he wants is to strike a deal in the next two weeks.

Even then, he has to get any deal agreed in parliament, where many MPs are not supportive.

He has riled pro-European MPs with his accusations they are “surrendering” to Brussels and “betraying” the 2016 referendum result.

Hardline euroskeptic MPs meanwhile have warned they would also reject any deal that does not deliver a clean break.

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