For a majority, the prime minister would need many votes from the opposition. The EU Commission wants to continue negotiations despite skepticism. The backstop remains a problem.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to inform the London Parliament on Thursday about his new Brexit plans. This was confirmed by a government spokeswoman of the German Press Agency. Johnson is expected to make his statement in the early afternoon. In the plans Johnson presented the day before in his closing speech at the Tory party conference in Manchester, the prime minister explains how, in his view, border controls on the Irish island can be avoided without a backstop.
The backstop is the term used to describe the guarantee clause for an open border between British Northern Ireland and the EU member Ireland in the previous withdrawal agreement. Johnson demands that it be deleted.
According to a Telegraph report, the British Prime Minister is insisting that the so-called ‘backstop’, the catch-up solution for the Irish-Northern-Irish border provided for in the previous exit agreement, be lifted. Otherwise, he is threatened with unregulated withdrawal from the EU on 31 October.
For his new proposals, the Prime Minister has already received approval from the Brexit hardliners of his party and the Northern Irish Protestant DUP, which supports his government. But there was criticism from the opposition – and to gain a majority in parliament, the prime minister would also need a considerable number of votes from the opposition Labour Party.
Previously, Johnson’s new plans had encountered with cautious to skeptical responses in Brussels and Dublin. Head of the government of Ireland Leo Varadkar told Boris Johnson in a telephone call on Wednesday evening that the propositions were not yet a full substitute for the backstop. But Johnson gives the EU a choice: either it accepts a treaty-based on his new plans, or there will be an unregulated EU withdrawal on 31 October. To avert the feared chaos after a hard Brexit, the European Union now wants to negotiate the concept despite a skeptical initial assessment.
Juncker praises Johnson for “progress.”
President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker declared after a conversation on the phone with British Prime minister that his proposals contained “positive progress”. But problematic points also remained. This would require work in a few days. Meetings of the negotiation teams are already scheduled. “We want a deal,” it continued. The European Union will work on this around the clock.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday evening that much work remains to preserve the three goals of the backstop: no border installations, a common economic area on the Irish island, and the protection of the EU’s internal market. “We will continue to work to reach an agreement,” Barnier said.
The Brexit guiding group in the EU Parliament will make a statement on Thursday on Johnson’s proposals. In an initial reaction, chairman Guy Verhofstadt had already indicated that the MEPs had not welcomed the concept. In the afternoon, the ambassadors of the 27 remaining EU member states will also discuss Johnson’s proposal. The showdown will take place at the EU summit on 17 and 18 October.
Merkel calls on EU to hold negotiations together
Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that it was important for the 27 remaining EU member states to stay together. For the time being, she did not comment on Johnson’s work. Finland, which currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, made similar comments. The 27 other countries wanted to take a constructive approach to Johnson’s proposals and play an active role. During the coming negotiations, “the EU 27 will remain united”.
France has indirectly warned of threats to the EU internal market in the light of the new Brexit plans. “I don’t want a tax haven on Europe’s doorstep,” said Amélie de Montchalin, Secretary of State for European Affairs, to CNews. She pointed out that the Brexit negotiations with the British government were difficult because of the unclear position of the parliament in London.
Johnson had announced that he would send Parliament on a forced break again next week, but this time only from 8 to 14 October. Queen Elizabeth II was asked to do so, the government said. This brief interruption of parliamentary proceedings is likely to cause much less criticism than the five-week forced break ordered by Johnson and overturned by the country’s supreme court.
EU fears for the open border in Ireland
The backstop should ensure that there is no need for physical and customs controls at the intra-Irish border. These are considered politically sensitive in the former civil war region. Johnson wants to replace this with a complicated regulation that would require customs controls, albeit not directly at the border.
Johnson also proposes that Northern Ireland should continue to apply EU standards to agricultural products and other commodities. This is important for the EU to protect its internal market. However, Johnson wants the Northern Ireland Regional Parliament to decide how long this will apply. The people’s representatives are to decide every four years whether it will stay that way.
The proposal is difficult for the EU. The fact that the Northern Ireland representation should always vote anew on the regulation could amount to a time limit on the guarantee of an open border, which Brussels always wanted to avoid. The EU does not wish to a customs border either. Customs controls far away from the edge, as proposed by Johnson, have so now been considered unfeasible by Brussels.
Johnson reiterated his view on Wednesday that the country could also cope with a disorderly EU withdrawal. A Brexit without a withdrawal treaty is “not an outcome we want … (but) a result for which we are ready”.