British Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented his first proposal for British exit from the EU a few months after coming to power. The plan is about the central theme of the Brexit, namely the status of Northern Ireland’s borders with the Republic of Ireland. One of the main challenges in the agreement between Theresa May and the European Union is the issue of the two Irish borders. Europeans and the UK want to prevent the return of the “physical” border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in order to avoid the re-emergence of ethnic tensions in Northern Ireland but they disagree on how to achieve this.
The European Union has agreed with former British Prime Minister Theresa May that the UK stay in the customs union with the EU until it sets up “alternative arrangements” that will likely prevent the return of the hard border within the framework of a free trade agreement.
Hardline conservatives on leaving the EU have said that the agreement will keep Britain under the EU umbrella which is why they opposed the Theresa May deal with the EU. Boris Johnson aims to break the seal of the agreement with the idea that the two southern and northern Irish borders will remain open until a long-term solution is found for Northern and Southern Irish citizens on how to transport goods. Boris Johnson’s offer proposes a set of clearance centers on both sides of the Irish border as a key element of its plan to replace Theresa May deal with the European Union.
This is contrary to the expectations of the European Union and the wish of the government of Southern Ireland. Free borders of the two Irelands was one of the main provisions of the Good Friday Peace Agreement which ended three decades of violence in Northern Ireland by Catholics and Protestants in 1998. Now, if after the passage of 20 years barriers are supposed to be thrown in the way of shuttles by the citizens of the two countries this peace agreement will undoubtedly face serious challenges and could ignite renewed violence in Northern Ireland.
Europe has put forward three conditions for the two Irish borders: first, the two Irish borders remain open within the framework of a customs union between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Secondly, this customs union will operate within the framework of the European single market. Thirdly the flow of citizens and goods between the two Irish countries should remain free. This could tie London’s hands in concluding the Customs Union deals and free trade agreements with other European countries. In the meantime, if this is done, London’s demands to leave the EU will not come true. The European Union has also reacted negatively to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan; the European Commission has stated that there is no reason to accept Britain’s request for negotiations on the vote two weeks before its meeting.
Boris Johnson’s final “take it or leave it” Brexit offer to Brussels is in danger of being dead on arrival after it was rounded on by government and opposition parties in Ireland.
The prime minister’s proposals were described as unworkable, unacceptable and illegal under British domestic law, which bans any new infrastructure on the Irish border that did not exist before Brexit day. “If this is the final offer, then there is not a deal to be had,” said one EU official.
Ireland’s European Affairs Minister, Helen McEntee, said the proposal would not be acceptable to Dublin and raised doubts that Johnson was sincere in wanting a deal.
Ireland’s foreign minister also responded by saying: “It is time for the European Union to receive serious proposals from the British government to reach an exit agreement in October.”
The prime minister of southern Ireland also opposed the plan, saying that the UK had offered no proposal to unlock the Brexit deal. On the other hand, supporters of soft exit from the EU also opposed the plan, with Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn saying that the proposal would not be approved by the EU and that Britain’s exit from the EU would remain in ambiguity. The leader of the Labor Party said: What we have been offered as a proposal is the same proposal that has been rejected in this House many times but reappeared in new packaging. Jeremy Corbyn added: “The proposal would endanger the peace treaty on the island of Ireland, ignore the rights of employees, violate consumer rights and endanger the environment.”
Boris Johnson is currently in a very difficult position; on the one hand he is facing a parliament where it does not have the majority and on the other he is still seeking a hard exit from the EU. He also faces a House of Commons resolution opposing a hard exit from the European Union. Under the House decree, the prime minister is required to take a new three-month deadline by January 31 to allow more time for agreement and a soft exit from the EU.
Given these challenges, Boris Johnson has created an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future of the electorate in British politics. In any case, neither supporters of soft exit from the EU are ready to back down, nor the EU welcomes Johnson’s offer. But the option that is still prevailing at both the EU and UK levels in the country’s political circles is the prospect of a hard exit without a deal by the UK on October 31, with Johnson’s offer facing serious hurdles. The most important obstacle to parliament’s approval is to delay the UK exit from EU. If this option is realized and Johnson is forced to apply for extension of the deadline, only two untested options, namely a second referendum or early elections, could open the door to the election. It is unlikely that, in the next few months, an agreement will be reached between advocates of hard and soft exit from the EU within the UK on one hand and the EU on the other.