Britain says new Brexit proposal imminent

AFP , Tuesday 1 Oct 2019

Britain is on the verge of submitting proposals for a new Brexit deal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday, even as France warned that failure to get a new agreement was the most likely outcome as the deadline loomed.

Johnson told BBC television that his government would be making "a very good offer" to Brussels "very soon", with just 30 days to go until the October 31 Brexit date.

He rejected reports it would see customs posts along the Irish border but conceded checks would be "just the reality" somewhere once Britain leaves the EU's customs union and single market.

His Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, welcomed Johnson's remarks disowning the customs posts plan, warning it would have been "hard evidence of bad faith" by London.

"No British government should seek to impose customs posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland," he told parliament in Dublin.

Any discussion about checks on the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland was in the context of the risk Britain leaves the bloc without agreeing exit terms.

"We've never been in the position of signing up to checks as part of a deal," Varadkar said.

EU leaders, however, have complained they have yet to see a concrete alternative to the current divorce deal, as the government struggles to unravel four decades of European integration against a hostile, largely pro-EU parliament.

Johnson himself has been slapped down by the courts for unlawfully suspending parliament, where he has lost a wafer thin majority because of the divisive issue, giving him little room for manoeuvre.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a no-deal Brexit was still the "most plausible" scenario in the absence of any acceptable proposals from London.

Carmaker Nissan on Tuesday said a no-deal could see it review its decision to make a new Qashqai model in Britain, putting thousands of jobs at risk at its factory in northeast England.

- Border troubles -

Johnson is seeking to renegotiate the divorce terms struck by his predecessor Theresa May last year, which parliament rejected three times.

He is focusing on the so-called backstop plan intended to keep goods flowing freely between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The backstop would keep Britain in the EU's customs union to avoid border checks, perhaps indefinitely -- something Brexit supporters would not accept.

The issue is contentious, as the removal of border posts was seen as key to bringing peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of sectarian violence between republicans and unionists that left thousands dead.

Johnson denied reports he wanted "customs clearance sites" along both sides of the border, which prompted outrage in Dublin.

Irish broadcaster RTE said a provisional "non-paper" from London proposed erecting posts a few miles (kilometres) away from the frontier.

Goods moving from one site to another would be monitored in real time on mobile phones or tracking devices placed on trucks.

- 'No credible solutions' -

Johnson took office in July promising to leave the EU on October 31 no matter what, after May twice delayed Brexit in her efforts to get a deal.

His pledge is popular with Conservative members and many Brexit voters but MPs in the House of Commons fear a "no deal" exit would be disastrous.

They passed a law requiring him to ask the EU to delay again if he has not reached a divorce deal by a Brussels summit on October 17-18.

"We now have two weeks left to where there are no credible solutions on the table," Ireland's Europe Minister Helen McEntee told RTE.

"The ball is very much in the court of the UK, as it has been for months and months at this stage. We are trying to be as accommodating as possible."

The EU said it had yet to receive any formal proposals, but one official said: "We are ready to examine workable proposals that achieve all objectives of the backstop."

- Clean break -

In a round of interviews, Johnson maintained progress had been made, including a "big concession" to allow Northern Ireland to follow EU rules on agriculture, allowing free movement of cattle.

But he is wary that anything he promises must be acceptable to the House of Commons, where he has no majority.

He has riled pro-European MPs with his accusations they are "surrendering" to Brussels and "betraying" the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit.

Hardline eurosceptic MPs have warned they would also reject any deal that does not deliver a clean break.

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