When Boris Johnson arrives at the Conservative Party Lectern this lunchtime, it is believed that he is presenting his long-awaited vision of an agreement with the EU, which he says he is keen to achieve. In the run-up, he emphasized that his plan was a “reasonable compromise” aimed at avoiding a chaotic Brexit. Details of the proposal are already circulating in the British media. Three questions and answers:
What are the key points?
The focus is on the problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which has long since proven to be the biggest stumbling block in the EU’s exit negotiations. Boris Johnson has always made it clear that he wants to clear the backstop negotiated by his predecessor – the throwback solution for the inner-Irish border – in any case out of the way. It stipulates that the UK will continue to apply the common external tariffs of the EU and partial rules of the single market until another solution is found.
Johnson’s plan is now, according to reports, first of all, that customs controls should take place between the two parts of Ireland, but not directly at the border. This should be a hard border – i.e. customs house and other infrastructure on the border line – unnecessary and the goods traffic can still be controlled.
Secondly, as far as the issue of product standards is concerned, Northern Ireland should adhere to the EU rules by 2025. However, this would mean that controls would also be required between ports in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. For this would be unnecessary directly on the inner Irish border. After the deadline, the Northern Ireland Regional Parliament will decide whether the part of the country wants to continue to align itself with the EU or the UK.
What would be new about these proposals?
Both sides have always agreed that a hard border with all its negative consequences – up to a new outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland – should be avoided. The British side has always brought the possibility of alternative high-tech solutions into the game, which should allow a smooth border traffic, which have not yet been realized. The proposal of inspections in the hinterland and, if possible, already at the production sites is not really new and also encounters practical problems which, above all, do not make smuggling impossible.
Inspections for differences in product standards between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom have so far been rejected by the Government of London as an improper interference with the unity of the country. If Boris Johnson really suggest this, it would be because of the limitation to five years, nothing but a kind of time limit of the backstop. This Brexit followers have long been calling for compromise.
What opportunities do these proposals have in Dublin and in Brussels?
Already on Tuesday, individual points of these plans were known to the public through indiscretions. In doing so, the Irish Government clearly reacted negatively to the proposal of backward border controls. This was already rejected in earlier phases of the negotiations, it was said in Dublin. And without Irish approval, Johnson’s plan will have no chance of success, even in Brussels. There are no official statements from the EU yet, but a diplomat told the Financial Times. There are still significant differences between what Boris Johnson offers and what Brussels can accept. But you will not completely reject the proposals. There is still ten days left to bridge the ditch. Johnson is also hoping that his move will lead the EU to risk a new start to negotiations.
The other – domestic – question for the Prime Minister is likely to be whether an agreement based on these proposals could be acceptable to the hard core of the Brexit supporters among the Tories and to the Northern Irish DUP party. Only then could Boris Johnson hope that such a deal will find a majority in the lower house.