Reports on latest UK Brexit proposals ‘concerning’

Tánaiste says Government hasn’t seen plans yet but leaked details ‘no basis’ for deal

The Government has described reported new proposals from the British government aimed at ending the Brexit impasse over the Irish border as "concerning".

Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to present his final offer to the EU to his Conservative colleagues at the conclusion of the party's conference on Wednesday. He is expected to deliver a message that there will be no delay beyond the October 31st deadline for the UK to leave the EU.

According to the Daily Telegraph Mr Johnson will propose scrapping the Irish border backstop - the most contentious part of the deal his predecessor Theresa May signed - and instead placing Northern Ireland in a temporary regime with a time limit. Customs checks would be required between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland -- something Ireland and the EU oppose.

His proposal involves the introduction of two borders, according to the report.

One, a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland, would be active for four years, while a second border for customs checks would be set up between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The report suggests that Northern Ireland will remain in large parts of the European Union single market until at least 2025 but the North will leave the EU customs union along with the rest of the UK.

The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) is largely “content” with the proposals, the Guardian reported separately, adding that the plan is supported by leader Arlene Foster, whose party props up the Conservatives in Westminster.

British officials have made clear to EU counterparts that the legal texts which will be presented are a final offer and unless Brussels is prepared to engage there will be no more talks until after Brexit.

Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday morning, Tánaiste Simon Coveney ruled out the idea of customs checks in Ireland, but said the Government would await the full proposals before making a judgment.

“We haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “We want to see a detailed proposals and we’ll make an assessment then. But certainly from what we’re reading this morning, I wouldn’t be too encouraged by it.

“Essentially, if he’s proposing customs checks on the island of Ireland I don’t think that’s going to be the basis of an agreement. But let’s wait and see the detail on that before we make a full judgment on it.”

‘No basis’

On Tuesday night, Mr Coveney said what was reported as the plan was “no basis for an agreement”, calling it “concerning to say the least”.

“I haven’t seen the proposals yet,” he said. “I read that Prime Minister Johnson is going to bring forward a proposal tomorrow. Some are even saying he has briefing certain EU capitals in relation to these ideas since Tuesday. We haven’t seen anything.

“We’ll have to wait and see. Obviously we’ll study any proposal carefully, but if the reports are true it doesn’t look like the basis of an agreement, that’s for sure.

“Our position has been consistent, respectful and clear. If there is to be an alternative to the backstop it has got to do the same job as the backstop, which means no physical border infrastructure on the island of Ireland, and no related checks or controls.”

Mr Coveney echoed earlier comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that proposals involving customs checks in Ireland would be “bad faith” on the part of the British government.

“If there is a proposal that involves customs checks on the island of Ireland, that in itself is bad faith given the commitments the British government has given both to Ireland and the EU over the last three years,” he told the Tonight Show on Virgin Media Television.

A senior Downing Street official said Mr Johnson’s government “is either going to be negotiating a new deal or working on no-deal — nobody will work on delay”.

This is a reference to legislation passed against Mr Johnson’s wishes in Westminster which would compel the prime minister to seek an extension to the UK’s departure date if a deal is not agreed by the middle of the month.

“We will keep fighting to respect the biggest democratic vote in British history, the official said. “The EU is obliged by EU law only to negotiate with member state governments, they cannot negotiate with Parliament, and this government will not negotiate delay.”

In his speech in Manchester, Mr Johnson is expected to say: “Voters are desperate for us to focus on their other priorities — what people want, what leavers want, what remainers want, what the whole world wants — is to move on.

“That is why we are coming out of the EU on October 31st. Let’s get Brexit done - we can, we must and we will.” - Additional reporting - PA