UK is seeking to bridge ‘chasm’ on Brexit, says Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson told parliament on Thursday that he had made a “genuine attempt to bridge the chasm” and unlock a Brexit deal with the EU by October 31.
The prime minister on Wednesday outlined a plan to Brussels that he hopes will resolve the vexed issue of the Irish border with the EU as well as end the deadlock over the UK’s departure terms at Westminster.
But during a House of Commons statement, Mr Johnson admitted “we are some way from a resolution” after the European Commission raised concerns about important elements of his plan.
His offer to the EU includes proposals to overhaul the withdrawal agreement finalised by his predecessor Theresa May and the 27 other member states by removing the so-called backstop to avoid a hard Irish border.
Mr Johnson’s plan involves the creation of two new borders: a customs frontier between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and a regulatory one between the region and mainland Britain.
Northern Ireland would adopt EU single market regulations for agriculture, food and industrial goods, provided the region’s devolved assembly gave its consent.
Mr Johnson objected to how the backstop tied the UK into a customs union with the EU that would stop Britain from forging its own trade policy after Brexit.
But Brussels has concerns that Mr Johnson’s plan could cause economic damage on the island of Ireland, as well as harm the EU single market and Good Friday peace agreement.
Mr Johnson told MPs the government’s objective “has always been to leave with a deal and these constructive and reasonable proposals show our seriousness of purpose”.
“They do not deliver everything that we would’ve wished, they do represent a compromise . . . 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.”
He appealed to MPs, who rejected Mrs May’s Brexit deal three times, to back his plan.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Johnson’s offer to the EU was a “rehashed version of previously rejected proposals that put the Good Friday agreement at risk and would trigger a race to the bottom on rights and protections for workers, consumers and our precious environment”.
He added that “no Labour MP could support such a reckless deal” and called on the government to publish the full legal text attached to Mr Johnson’s offer to Brussels.
The UK has requested that the document, which runs to more than 80 pages, not be shared beyond the two negotiating teams.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said it was up to the EU to respond creatively to the UK offer to avoid Britain leaving the bloc without an agreement on October 31, but the European Commission responded by stating it would not be the one “left holding the . . . ball”.
“There are problematic points with the UK’s proposal and further work is needed, but that work needs to be done by the UK and not the EU,” said Natasha Bertaud, spokeswoman for the commission.