UK opposition rejects Johnson’s Brexit plan as worse than May’s deal

British PM says proposal a compromise for both sides that respects Belfast Agreement

An ebullient Boris Johnson after delivering his closing speech at the Conservative party conference in the Manchester Convention Centre. Photograph: EPA

An ebullient Boris Johnson after delivering his closing speech at the Conservative party conference in the Manchester Convention Centre. Photograph: EPA

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson has spoken to European leaders including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to persuade them to engage with his proposal for a replacement for the Northern Ireland backstop. But Britain’s opposition parties immediately rejected the plan, which Jeremy Corbyn said was worse than the deal negotiated by Theresa May.

“I can’t see it getting the support that he thinks it will get and it will take us into a regime in Britain of deregulation, of undercutting and I think will also undermine the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement,” said the Labour leader.

The Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit by revoking Britain’s article 50 notification, said the proposal confirmed that Mr Johnson had no alternative to the backstop.

“It is ludicrous to think that somehow Boris Johnson believes the answer to ensuring no Irish Border is to create two. Not to mention it goes against the Conservative government’s own promises that there would be no return of any border infrastructure,” said the party’s Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake.

Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party is competing with the Conservatives for the support of Leave voters, was dismissive of Mr Johnson’s proposal.

Boris Johnson's letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

“Boris only wants to change one part of the withdrawal agreement. Despite his words there is no guarantee that we will leave the customs union, and any future trade deal needs good faith from the EU side. It’s like putting your head in a crocodile’s mouth and hoping for the best,” he said.

In a boost to Mr Johnson’s chances of winning support among Conservative Eurosceptics, the DUP offered their backing for the deal. They said it ensured democratic consent for Northern Ireland remaining aligned with EU regulations by requiring the approval of both communities’ representatives in the Assembly for them to continue after four years.

In his closing speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Mr Johnson described his proposal as a compromise for both sides that respects the Belfast Agreement. And he said Britain would leave with no deal if the EU rejects them.

“If we fail to get an agreement because of what is essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks when that technology is improving the whole time then let us be in no doubt that the alternative is no deal. That is not an outcome we want. It is not an outcome we seek at all. But let me tell you this, conference: it is an outcome for which we are ready,” he said.

Criticism of parliament

Mr Johnson mocked Mr Corbyn’s refusal to agree to a general election before it was clear that a no-deal Brexit on October 31st had been blocked. And he blamed parliament for failing to deliver Brexit.

“If parliament were a laptop, then the screen would be showing the pizza wheel of doom. If parliament were a school, Ofsted would be shutting it down. If parliament were a reality TV show the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle by now. But at least we could have watched the speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle,” he said.

“And the sad truth is that voters have more say over I’m a celebrity than they do over this House of Commons, which refuses to deliver Brexit, refuses to do anything constructive and refuses to have an election.”

Downing Street confirmed on Wednesday night that the prime minister will ask Queen Elizabeth to prorogue parliament from next Tuesday evening until October 14th, when she will open a new session with a Queen’s Speech. The suspension was agreed with opposition party whips.

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