On Thursday, Johnson told the House of Commons his proposals do not deliver all of his departure desires, but he insisted they are better options than to “remain a prisoner” of the current situation.
Still, he acknowledged in his statement a day after he shared his proposals with Brussels that they are “some way from a resolution.”
The prime minister appears to be building support from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), eurosceptics within his own party and some opposition MPs wishing to avert a no-deal Brexit.
But Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn branded Johnson’s proposal as being worse than former prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which was rejected three times. Corbyn warned his own backbenchers not to vote with the prime minister.
This government’s objective has always been to leave with a deal, and these constructive and reasonable proposals show our seriousness of purpose.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The Labour leader said Johnson was proposing a “Trump deal Brexit” that would damage regulatory standards.
“No Labour MP could support such a reckless deal that will be used as a springboard to attack rights and standards in this country,” he said.
In his statement, Johnson urged MPs to “come together in the national interest behind this new deal.” But first, he must get it passed by the EU. So far, reactions from European leaders have been cool.
“This government’s objective has always been to leave with a deal, and these constructive and reasonable proposals show our seriousness of purpose,” the prime minister said.
“They do not deliver everything that we would’ve wished, they do represent a compromise, but to remain a prisoner of existing positions is to become a cause of deadlock rather than breakthrough,” Johnson continued. “So we have made a genuine attempt to bridge the chasm, to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable and to go the extra mile as time runs short.”
‘A plan designed to fail’
The Scottish National Party’s parliamentary leader, Ian Blackford, said Johnson’s proposals simply push the country closer to a no-deal Brexit by offering a plan the EU is likely to reject.
“These proposals are unacceptable, they are unworkable, they are undeliverable, and it’s all about blaming someone else — in this case, the European Union when the plan was rejected,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, it is a plan designed to fail, but of course, the prime minister knows that. By his own desire, this take-it-or-leave-it threat is yet another push towards a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.”
The British leader set out his plan to resolve the contentious issue of the Irish backstop in a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.
Johnson followed this up with a phone call to Juncker and held further discussions with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The prime minister’s attempt to compromise by keeping Northern Ireland tied to single-market rules for trade in goods while leaving the customs union with the rest of the U.K. may not be enough for the EU.
Juncker and Varadkar both expressed concern that the return of customs controls threatened the Good Friday Agreement’s guarantee to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Varadkar said the proposals “do not fully meet the agreed objectives” of the backstop, while Juncker said there were some “problematic points.”
Johnson said his proposals had been driven by the need to “protect” and “fortify” the peace agreement, as he ruled out the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But even if he gets the support of EU leaders for a deal, he must get it through a British parliament that has so far been hostile to Brexit proposals.
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told reporters that “we have many questions on the text” of the Brexit proposal.
“We have pointed out that there are problematic points so, yes, we have questions and these need to be answered by the U.K. and not the other way around,” she added.
Nationalists in Northern Ireland have expressed anger over a proposal requiring the suspended Stormont Assembly to approve the new arrangements, with a vote every four years.
Sinn Fein argued that it would effectively hand a veto to Johnson’s allies, the DUP, which have a majority in the assembly.
Under the plan, the arrangements would start in 2021 at the end of the proposed transition period if there was no long-term trade agreement at that point and would continue until one was in place.
An explanatory note from the government said a system of declarations for goods traded between Northern Island and Ireland would mean only a “very small proportion” would be subject to physical customs checks.
When they were necessary, it said that they would take place well away from the border, at the traders’ premises or other designated locations.
At the same time, the plan proposes a “zone of regulatory compliance” covering the entire island of Ireland, tying Northern Ireland to EU rules for the trade in manufactured goods and agri-food products.