Boris Johnson on Sunday urged the EU to compromise on a Brexit deal, as he insisted the UK would leave the bloc without an agreement if necessary on October 31.
With the British prime minister’s team hinting at him making concessions on his Brexit plan, Mr Johnson told French president Emmanuel Macron this was the “final opportunity” to secure a withdrawal agreement.
The EU is demanding Mr Johnson make changes to his Brexit proposal unveiled last week, and Mr Macron told the prime minister that talks on a possible deal had to continue apace so that an assessment could be made by the end of the week on whether an agreement was possible.
The European Commission said on Friday after talks with David Frost, Mr Johnson’s Brexit negotiator, that the prime minister’s plan did not provide the basis for reaching an agreement.
Mr Frost is due to hold more talks in Brussels on Monday as Mr Johnson tries to finalise a deal ahead of an EU leaders’ summit on October 17-18.
The prime minister is keen to strike a deal after a rebel alliance of MPs passed a law that requires him to ask the EU for a fresh delay to Brexit if he has not secured a deal by October 19.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson had told Mr Macron “we have to push forward”, adding the EU “should not be lured into the mistaken belief that the UK will stay in the EU after October 31”.
“The PM said that this is the final opportunity to secure a deal . . . but if this is to be possible, the EU must match the compromises that the UK has made in recent weeks and months,” it added.
A spokesperson for the Elysée palace said Mr Macron told Mr Johnson that “negotiations should continue swiftly in the coming days with [EU Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier’s team, in order to evaluate by the end of next week if a deal is possible, while respecting the principles of the European Union”.
The EU has objections to how Mr Johnson’s Brexit plan involves a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, saying this will not uphold the all-Ireland economy and the bloc’s single market.
Brussels also has concerns about Mr Johnson’s proposal for Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly to vote every four years on whether to remain aligned with the bloc’s single market rules for goods.
The EU is worried Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party could have a de facto veto, and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay hinted the government may be willing to make concessions.
He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think the key issue . . . is the principle of consent. Now, the mechanism . . . we can obviously, as part of the intense negotiations in the coming days, discuss that mechanism.”
Mr Johnson is insisting on the removal of the so-called backstop in the withdrawal agreement finalised by his predecessor Theresa May and the EU.
This created a customs union between the UK and the EU after Brexit to avoid a hard Irish border, but Mr Johnson objected to how it could lock Britain into close ties with the bloc in perpetuity.
Asked if the government “was going to move” on the customs issue, Mr Barclay said: “Well, we’ve set out a broad landing zone, so in the detail of the negotiations of course we can get into the detail as to how operationally they work [and] what legal certainty is required by the commission as of October 31.”
Mr Barclay confirmed the government was considering putting Mr Johnson’s Brexit plan to a vote in the House of Commons before the EU summit, in a move aimed at showing MPs’ support for it.
Shadow attorney-general Shami Chakrabarti suggested the Labour party could back the plan if it secured the support of Brussels and Dublin.
Mr Johnson’s allies warned he would refuse to resign as prime minister if his plan was rejected by Brussels and MPs tried to avert a no-deal Brexit on October 31 by passing a vote of no confidence in his government.
MPs last month approved the so-called Benn Act — which Mr Johnson nicknames the “surrender act” — that requires him to ask the EU for a fresh Brexit delay if he has not secured parliamentary approval for a withdrawal agreement or a no deal departure by October 19.
The MPs opposed to Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy will seek to take control of the Commons order paper on Monday to pass more legislation to prevent a no-deal departure.
But a senior aide to Mr Johnson said: “The prime minister is pretty clear that he’s not going to allow a group of MPs to cancel the [Brexit] referendum by undermining the negotiations via the surrender act and then seizing power.”