Britain is due to present the European Union with proposals for an amended Brexit agreement later this week, including ideas to replace the contested ‘backstop’ insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland that Britain previously signed up to.
The government has so far given away little detail of its plans. Below is what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about the proposals during broadcast interviews on Tuesday from his governing Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester.
When Proposals will be put forward:
“We are going to make a very good offer we are going to be tabling it formally very soon.”
“What we will be doing is giving our friends a proposal and we think it’s a good proposal and, clearly, if there is no way of getting it over the line from their point of view we’ll have to live with that but I think that they will see some merit in it and we’ll work on it.”
Customs clearance centres:
Johnson denied a report by Irish broadcaster RTE that Britain had proposed border posts a few miles from the border.
“That is not what we are proposing at all. I think probably at the moment if you will forgive me I would like to veil our proposals in decent obscurity until we have been able to share them properly with our friends.”
Asked if there would be a hard border a few miles away from the border, he said: “Absolutely not and there are very good reasons why that would not be a good idea and I think everybody who is familiar with the situation in Ireland, in Northern Ireland could understand why you wouldn’t want it both for practical reasons and also for reasons of sentiment that we totally, totally understand.”
Johnson said he agreed with those who say there will have to be checks somewhere on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
“That is just the reality and I think what we are coming up to now is, as it were, the critical moment of choice for us as friends and partners about how we proceed because in the end a sovereign united country must have a single customs territory and when the UK withdraws from the EU that must be the state of affairs that we have.”
“There are plenty of ways in which we can facilitate north-south trade, plenty of ways in which we can address the problem and without going into the detail of our proposals … there are ways in which we can protect the unity of the market in the whole of the island of Ireland.”
“We just have limits and I think people need to understand that. There is a natural limit to the ability of a sovereign state to compromise on things like the customs territory, the customs union. So that is where we are trying to make it work but we will work very, very hard to get this done.”
Sanitary and Phytosanitary zone:
“We are already accepting that…you have a single territory for agriculture, for sanitary, phytosanitary and for agri-foods and that is a big concession by the UK government because after all what it means is that for all those areas … the decisions on sanitary and phytosanitary rules would still be taken in Brussels with no say by the UK, with Dublin participating in those conversations.”
“What you would do in the sanitary and phytosanitary area, the zone, is you would allow the movement of cattle easily across the border and all sorts of other goods, so a huge proportion of the trade.”
“Those are areas where in the last month the UK, working with unionist sentiment in Northern Ireland, we have already moved a long way … We are accepting the idea that there can be for the purposes of agriculture … the people in Northern Ireland may be British but the cattle are Irish and we can work with that thought and deliver a good result.”
What other changes Britain is seeking:
“What we want to do is to get rid of the backstop and that is the most important thing. We will also want changes to the political declaration which sets out the future shape of the relationship between the UK and the EU.”
“The difficulty really is going to be around the customs union and to what extent Northern Ireland can be retained within the EU body at all … because one of the basic things about being a country is you have a single customs perimeter and a single customs union.”
“There is no point in doing Brexit if you stay locked in the customs union and locked in the single market with no say on those institutions, no say on that rule making and that was basically what the existing Withdrawal Agreement committed this country to doing. That is why it is essential to come out of the backstop.”
“The most important thing is that we bust out of the so-called backstop arrangements which keep the UK locked in Brussels’ customs union, commercial trade policy and regulatory framework, all the rules that come from Brussels under the backstop we would have to accept … but without any say in the making of those laws.”
Meeting the EU’s tests for replacing the backstop:
“They are that there should be no checks at the border, that the unity of the single market should be respected and of course that the Good Friday peace process should be promoted and respected … and you can do all three of those things whilst withdrawing the UK whole and entire from the EU and that is what we are going to do.”