Boris Johnson will present his Brexit plans to Brussels by the end of the week as he ramps up efforts to strike a deal.
The Prime Minister said he remained ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the prospect of a deal despite the limited time available ahead of the scheduled October 31 withdrawal date.
He said the UK side had made some ‘pretty big moves’ towards a deal but it was up to Brussels to respond to find the right ‘landing zone’.
Downing Street insiders indicated the proposals should be delivered to Brussels by the end of the week, after the conclusion of the Conservative Party conference.
Chancellor Sajid Javid said a no-deal Brexit ‘may well happen’ on October 31 despite a law aimed at preventing Mr Johnson from taking the UK out of the European Union without an agreement.
However, plans for customs posts along both sides of the Irish border to replace the backstop were dismissed by Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney
Irish State broadcaster RTE reported the suggestion sent to the European Union by the UK would lead to the posts being built between five and 10 miles back from the current border.
The idea for the customs posts are contained in the so-called ‘non-papers’ submitted by UK officials during recent technical discussions.
The deputy Irish premier poured cold water on the plans, saying Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland ‘deserves better.’
He tweeted: ‘Non-Paper = Non-Starter. Time the EU had a serious proposal from the UK Govt if a #Brexit deal is to be achievable in October. NI and IRE deserves better!’
Opposition political parties in the republic also criticised the reported plans.
Lisa Chambers, the Fianna Fail Brexit spokeswoman tweeted: ‘This is effectively a border with a buffer zone and is clearly not a satisfactory alternative to the #backstop With 30 days now to go until #Brexit we need to see sensible workable solutions that ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland. What about regulations on goods?’
‘For all the U.K. governments talk that they wouldn’t erect a border on the island of Ireland, here they are proposing a border as a solution to their #Brexit paralysis,’ she tweeted.
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald tweeted: ‘The British proposal to reimpose a hard border on our island, as reported by @tconnellyRTE, is out of the question. It is further evidence of Tory recklessness and belligerence towards Ireland.’
Irish Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin also dismissed the plans.
He tweeted: ‘Leaked proposals from the UK on alternatives to the backstop are completely unacceptable. The UK is well aware that a mass of new border checks, wherever sited, breach the agreement reached with the May government to avoid regulatory barriers to trade.’
Boris Johnson said the October 31 date would be met ‘whatever happens’.
Speaking during a visit to a cash-and-carry business in Manchester, he said: ‘I’m cautiously optimistic. We have made some pretty big moves, we are waiting to see whether our European friends will help us and whether we can find the right landing zone. But whatever happens, we’ll come out on October 31.’
Mr Javid said he thinks he knows how the Prime Minister intends to achieve the October 31 withdrawal despite the restrictions of the Benn Act.
The law was rushed through Parliament to require the Prime Minister to seek a delay to Brexit if a deal has not been agreed by October 19, or if MPs have not agreed to leave the EU without one.
But there have been suspicions in pro-EU circles that the Prime Minister will try to avoid complying with the requirements.
The Chancellor told the BBC: ‘Of course, every government should observe all laws at all times. We’re taking a careful look at that law.’
He said there could be no more ‘dither and delay and we will leave if we have to without a deal on October 31’.
Asked if he knew how the Government would get around the Benn Act, he replied: ‘I think I do.
‘The intention of the law is clear and I do think it has absolutely made it harder for the Government to get the deal that we all want to see. That said, it can still be done.
‘It’s not about getting around the law… I don’t really want to discuss the detail of this law, it’s a pretty fresh new law, but we are also clear at all times we, of course, like any government, we will absolutely observe the law.’
The Chancellor said he was not sure how much a no-deal Brexit would cost the economy in the short term.
‘I don’t think anyone really knows a full, proper answer to that question. And I have never pretended that if you leave without a deal it won’t be challenging.’
DUP leader Arlene Foster, who said on Sunday she would look at the prospect of a time limit on the Irish backstop, said that was a ‘world of difference’ away from agreeing to one.
Brexiteers including the Prime Minister have called for the contingency plan – which will avoid a hard border with Ireland by keeping the UK closely tied to Brussels’ rules – to be scrapped.
But a time limit on the measure – if the EU agreed to it – would address one of their concerns, which is its indefinite nature.
Mrs Foster told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference: ‘I didn’t say that we would accept that, I said that we would look at it – there is a world of difference.’
Eurosceptic Tory Mark Francois, one of the hardline Brexiteers nicknamed the Spartans, said he would not be forced to back a deal and the ‘acid test’ would be whether it delivered on the commitment to leave the EU.
‘If there is a deal, as a so-called Spartan, if it means that we genuinely leave the European Union at Halloween then I will be the first in the Aye lobby,’ he told a fringe event.
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‘But if it really means we don’t, I will be against it and no amount of browbeating by anybody will make me change my mind.’
Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly heavily hinted that the Government believed there was a way of wriggling out of the Benn Act.
He told a Politico fringe event in Manchester on Monday evening: ‘Legislation passed in a rush tends to be bad legislation.’
He refused to say how the Government could get around the legislation, adding: ‘What we’ve seen is parties distorting the parliamentary process, breaking conventions, taking a very creative interpretation of parliamentary procedures to prevent the Government discharging a promise the Prime Minister made and indeed a promise that all parties made at the referendum.
‘And I’m not going to help them by showing them our homework.’
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