Written by Mark Landler and Stephen Castle
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain insisted on Wednesday that he loved Europe, even as he presented officials in Brussels with a new, detailed plan to pull his country out of the European Union by the end of this month.
Johnson said Britain was offering a “reasonable compromise” on the vexing question of Ireland, and Brussels said it would study his proposal. But the swift, negative response of Ireland’s leaders suggested it would not draw the two sides any closer to an amicable divorce.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Johnson mixed a defiant appeal to the Brexiteers in his party with a conciliatory tone toward Brussels.
“It cannot be stressed too much that this is not an anti-European party, and it is not an anti-European country,” Johnson said. “We love Europe. We are European.” When the audience fell silent, an abashed prime minister added, “At least, I love Europe.”
Johnson won the crowd back when he repeated his vow to lead Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31, with or without a deal. His gleefully combative tone seemed calculated less to break a deadlock with the European Union than to mobilize the party’s rank-and-file for a coming election that he hopes will give him a popular mandate to negotiate with Brussels from a position of greater strength.
After his speech, Johnson briefed the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, on the details of Britain’s latest offer. The plan, dubbed “two borders for four years,” would pull Northern Ireland out of the European customs union along with Britain but leave much of the territory’s economy aligned with European Union regulations for a period.
Juncker welcomed parts of it and found others “problematic,” according to a statement from the commission, which said its experts would review the proposals in more detail. But the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said the plan was “not promising and does not appear to form the basis of an agreement.”
Ireland’s acquiescence to Britain’s proposal is viewed as necessary to winning the approval of the European Union.