News | Published October 02 2019

Government unveils Brexit plans

The UK government has published its proposals to the EU for a new Brexit deal, including its alternative solution to the controversial Irish backstop.

In the proposals, an “all-island regulatory zone” would be created which would see Northern Ireland follow EU rules for goods and effectively stay in the single market, in order to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland.

This would mean that checks will apply to goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but not on those between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

However, the proposals make clear that Northern Ireland will leave the customs union and become part of the new UK customs territory with Great Britain, meaning a customs border and customs checks will come into force between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It is implied, however, that customs checks and controls could happen electronically and any physical checks will not take place at or near the border and instead will occur at the point of origin, the final destination, or elsewhere.

The Stormont Assembly of Northern Ireland must approve the plans first and would have the right to vote every four years on whether to keep the arrangements in place.

The government is also pledging financial commitments to Northern Ireland to help implement the changes as part of its wider proposal for a "New Deal for Northern Ireland".

Johnson hopes that his new plan will be enough to win the approval of the EU and break the deadlock in Parliament by dispensing with the backstop, which has been the major sticking point in negotiations thus far.

The backstop policy, negotiated between the EU and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, will prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, but offers no legal means for the UK to unilaterally leave the EU and could leave Northern Ireland tied to the single market and customs union indefinitely.

Johnson has repeatedly insisted that the terms of the backstop are "undemocratic" and "unacceptable" and that an alternative must be found for any deal to materialise.

Upon releasing his new plans, Johnson warned that the only alternative would be to leave the EU without a deal.

The prime minister has accompanied the proposals with a written letter to the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, saying that the bloc should “respect the decision taken by the people of the UK to leave the EU, while dealing pragmatically with that decision's consequences in Northern Ireland and in Ireland”.

The European Commission said it would look over the proposals “objectively”.

In the run-up to the release of the plans, Irish premier Leo Varadkar addressed the Assembly of Ireland saying that talks with the UK had not been encouraging and would be insufficient as a “basis for agreement”.

The legal deadline for UK withdrawal from the EU is October 31 and the prime minister has insisted that Brexit will not be delayed further even if it means leaving the bloc without a deal in place.

New legislation passed in Parliament in September may yet scupper Johnson’s plans for a timely Brexit, however, by obliging the prime minister to seek a further extension to the Brexit deadline unless MPs back a new deal by October 19.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
October 02 2019

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