Johnson: UK is offering Brexit ‘compromise’ to EU

World News

October 2, 2019 - 10:26 AM

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The U.K. will offer the European Union a proposed Brexit deal today that represents a compromise for both sides, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he urged the bloc to meet Britain halfway and allow for the country’s orderly departure after years of wrangling.

Johnson’s speech to Conservative Party members at their annual conference had been billed by his office as a take-it-or-leave-it “final offer” to the EU. Yet as delivered, it was more like a plea to the bloc, and to Britons, to end more than three years of acrimonious wrangling over the terms of the U.K.’s exit from the EU.

“Let’s get Brexit done,” was the repeated refrain to delegates at the conference in Manchester, northwest England.

British voters in 2016 narrowly chose to leave the EU but the country remains deeply divided over how to do it. In his speech, Johnson said people who voted for Brexit “are beginning to feel that they are being taken for fools.”

“They are beginning to suspect that there are forces in this country that simply don’t want Brexit delivered at all,” he said in the nationally televised speech. “And if they turn out to be right in that suspicion, then I believe there will be grave consequences for trust in our democracy.”

With Britain’s delayed departure from the bloc due to take place on Oct. 31, Johnson said the government would send “constructive and reasonable proposals” to the EU later Wednesday.

He said the plan was “a compromise by the U.K. And I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn.”

But the plans are likely to face deep skepticism from EU leaders, who doubt the U.K. has a workable proposal to avoid checks on goods or people crossing the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Brexit — the key sticking point to a deal.

Johnson insisted that “we will under no circumstances have checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland.”

A Brexit agreement between the EU and Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times by the U.K. Parliament, largely because of opposition to the “backstop,” an insurance policy designed to ensure there is no return to customs posts or other infrastructure on the Irish border.

An open border underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process. But Johnson and other British Brexit supporters oppose the backstop because it would keep the U.K. tightly bound to EU trade rules in order to avoid customs checks — limiting the country’s ability to strike new trade deals around the world.

Johnson said the government’s proposal involved maintaining “the existing regulatory arrangements for farmers and businesses on both sides of the border.” That could keep Northern Ireland in a regulatory zone with the EU for food, agricultural and industrial products, removing the need for checks, but the EU will carefully study the details.

Britain has previously suggested such an arrangement could have a time limit — something the EU has rejected.

The EU said it would give the British proposal serious legal vetting before saying whether it is worthy of being a basis for future talks on the U.K.’s departure.

The European Commission said in a statement that “once received, we will examine (the U.K. text) objectively and in light of well-known criteria,” which includes whether it prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland, preserves cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and respects the EU rules on trade across borders.