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25th Feb 2024

Johnson finally unveils UK's Brexit border 'compromise'

The UK has revealed its plans on Wednesday (2 October) to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU rules for a limited period of time to break the impasse in Brexit negotiations, with just weeks to go.

British prime minister Boris Johnson insisted that there would be no checks on the border on the island of Ireland under his proposals, that are aimed at replacing the so-called backstop designed to avoid a hard border after Brexit.

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The proposed compromise from Johnson's government finally came just four weeks before the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October. However, the British parliament has passed a rebel bill, forcing Johnson to ask the EU for an extension if there is no deal. The PM has said both that he will respect the law, and that the UK is leaving the EU at the end of the month.

"Today in Brussels, we are tabling constructive and reasonable proposals which provide a compromise on both sides, we will under no circumstances have checks on or near the border in Northern Ireland, we will respect the peace process," Johnson told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

London's hope is that they would help clinch a deal before the UK is due to leave the bloc on 31 October, after they have been signed off by EU leaders at their Brussels summit on 17-18 October.

The plan would see Northern Ireland essentially stay in the EU single market for goods and it would stay aligned with EU rules for agri-food products and industrial goods for four years.

Initially and every four years, the Northern Ireland assembly - a power-sharing body born out of the 1998 peace process - would decide whether to continue being aligned with EU rules, in order to reduce friction at the border.

Johnson appeared to have secured the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which had previously objected to having any regulatory or customs arrangement differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

But this new "all-island regulatory zone" would be under the UK customs arrangements after the transition period ends - in case there is a deal - in 2021.

Johnson, in his four-page letter to EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, is proposing to do "very small number of physical checks" at the traders' premises or "other points of the supply chain".

He admits that the proposal means "changes from the situation that prevails in Ireland and Northern Ireland now".

Johnson adds it is the UK's and the EU's common task to make sure "that these changes entail as little day-today. disruptions as possible".

'Not promising'

EU officials and diplomats have been holding their breaths in anticipation of the proposals, but are skeptical about a breakthrough.

The EU commission said it will examine the proposal "objectively", and "will listen very carefully to the UK".

"In order to be there a deal there must be a legally-operable solution that meets all the objectives of the backstop, preventing a hard border, preserving the north-south cooperation and the all-island economy, protecting the EU's single market and Ireland's place in it," a commission spokesperson said.

Juncker and Johnson were expected to have a phone call on Wednesday afternoon.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier then was expected to brief the 27 EU ambassadors in Brussels on the proposals.

Johnson was also going to speak to Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar over the phone, whose assessment of the plan is crucial.

"What I can say is from the leaks, it's not promising, and does not appear to form the basis for an agreement but we'll keep talking but I'd want to see them in writing first," Varadkar said earlier on Wednesday.

"It will be necessary to have checks, but we believe they should be done at ports and airports, but not along the 500km border. That's our position and makes sense to us," he added.

For the EU-27, the proposals also need to pass another, political hurdle to be acceptable.

"We don't want to be surprised by the House of Commons," an EU diplomat warned earlier this week.

"I cannot imagine the EU leaders wanting to enter into a deal unless they are absolutely sure it will be carried by the democratic institutions in the UK," the diplomat added.

Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he is not emotionally attached to the Irish backstop, but workable solutions are required to keep the peace on the island.

Johnson attacks court and MPs as he pushes for election

British prime minister Boris Johnson called on the opposition to either stop trying to prevent the government going for a no-deal Brexit, or call for an election. He also declared the Supreme Court's ruling was wrong.

Johnson plans UK snap election again, minister says

British prime minister Boris Johnson flew back to London on Wednesday as the parliament reconvened. The government plans an early election, while MPs are still keen to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

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