The Prime Minister has revealed his long-awaited proposals, which he argues removes the need for the Irish backstop and paves the way for an 11th-hour Brexit deal to be clinched.
Boris Johnson today wrote to the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker telling him the proposals allow for “a meaningful Brexit, in which UK trade policy is fully under UK control from the start”.
As part of the plans Northern Ireland would effectively stay in customs union for goods, with the creation of an all-island regulatory zone.
Northern Ireland would leave the EU’s customs union along with the UK, meaning there would have to be new customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But the proposals argue the bulk of these checks could be carried out electronically, with a small number carried out physically, away from the border, for example at business’ premises.
Time to abolish the Irish backstop
Johnson added: “The proposed backstop is a bridge to nowhere, and a new way forward must be found.”
His letter, which was also sent to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, stressed that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK’s customs territory.
“It has always been a fundamental point for this government that the UK will leave the EU customs union at the end of the transition period,” it said. “We must do so whole and entire. Control of trade is fundamental to our vision.”
In its proposal, submitted by chief sherpa David Frost to the EU earlier today, the UK government has for the first time acknowledged there will be “decentralised” checks on the island of Ireland under its plan.
The explanatory note, published by the government, sets out plans for an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland,”covering not just sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and agri-food rules but all goods, thus eliminating regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.
This would be dependent “on the consent of those who live under it”, the document added. There would be “an opportunity for democratic consent to these arrangements” every four years from 2020 onwards
“If consent is withheld, the arrangements will not enter into force or will lapse (as the case may be) after one year, and arrangements will default to existing rules,” the note said.
This would ensure Northern Ireland was “fully part of the UK customs territory, not the EU customs territory, after the end of the transition period”.
Electronic customs checks?
The document sets out proposals for customs checks, which could take place “electronically, and with the small number of physical checks needed conducted at traders’ premises or other points on the supply chain”.
“This should be coupled with a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future,” the note said.
While it stressed there would be no checks at the border, or anything that it argued could be viewed as a hard border, there would be “regulatory checks applying between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, whilst Northern Ireland and Ireland would be in separate customs territories with customs controls applied to trade in goods between them”.
“There is therefore no need for the extensive level playing field arrangements envisaged in the previous protocol,” the text submitted today said. “Measures regarding open and fair competition are most appropriately discussed in the context of the UK-EU future relationship.”
Juncker and Johnson are scheduled to speak on the phone this evening, at around 5pm, before Brussels formally responds to the UK’s long-awaited position.
The legal text was submitted just a couple of hours after Johnson gave the keynote speech at the Conservative party conference.
Speaking in Manchester, the Prime Minister said: “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 31. Let’s get Brexit done – we can, we must and we will.”
The conference slogan was “Get Brexit Done”.
Overnight government officials briefed that today’s proposal would be final, and that Brussels had the choice of a “new deal or no deal, but no delay”.
Main image: Getty