UK Brexit proposals ‘unworkable and unenforceable’

NI’s former secretary of state accuses Johnson of ‘passing the parcel’ on Border issue

Peter Hain says Boris Johnson is working on a ‘not me Guv’ basis. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The British government's Brexit proposals are "unworkable and unenforceable", the North's former secretary of state, Peter Hain, has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday News programme, the Labour peer compared the choice between Boris Johnson's proposals and a no deal Brexit to "the choice between shooting yourself in the head and shooting yourself in the heart."

He also said he did not believe the British prime minister would secure the EU’s agreement to his plans. “I’m not sure how serious he is about [getting a deal] because if he was, he wouldn’t have put a proposal that he must know cannot work,” he said.

Lord Hain also accused Boris Johnson of "effectively passing the parcel" of the Border to Dublin. Mr Johnson was working, said Lord Hain, on a "'not me, Guv' basis. He says, 'I'm not going to put up a hard Border', but they [Ireland and the EU] will have to, and of course we know the consequences of that."


He said he believed the British parliament would block a no deal - “the law of the land is there can be no deal” - and there would be an extension to the Brexit deadline of October 31st.

Final offer

Lord Hain was speaking after the UK Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, said Britain was open to some flexibility on the mechanism that would allow lawmakers in Northern Ireland to decide whether it remains in regulatory alignment with the EU.

"The key issue is the principle of consent, that's why the backstop was rejected three times, that was the concern in terms of both sides in Northern Ireland not approving of the backstop," Mr Barclay told the BBC's Andrew Marr on Sunday.

“So the key is the principle of consent, now of course in the mechanism, as part of the intensive negotiations we could look at that and discuss that.”

Boris Johnson made what he called the UK's final Brexit offer to the European Union on Wednesday. It proposes replacing the backstop - the guarantee to prevent a hard Border on the island of Ireland - with a proposal for an all-island regulatory zone to cover all goods.

This would effectively create a customs divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a regulatory divide between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.

More concessions

The proposal also gives the North’s Assembly – which has been suspended since 2017– the right to decide every four years whether it wants to continue to abide by EU rules on traded goods.

Both the European Union and Ireland have said the proposals were unlikely to result in a deal without more concessions.

In Northern Ireland, the plans have been backed by the DUP but rejected by the rest of the North’s main political parties, as well as by the business community.

The Ulster Unionist peer, Lord Empey, hit out at the DUP and accused the party of doing a "u-turn" regarding a border in the Irish Sea.

“It’s a ghastly deal,” said Lord Empey, “and I am still unable to understand how any unionist could be advocating such measures.”

The DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson accused Lord Empey of "still fighting battle against the DUP which he lost fifteen years ago" and said the deal "removes the threat of the backstop and fully respects our constitutional position within the UK."

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times