Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief brexit negotiator, called London’s new proposal “progress,” but emphasized that much work remains to be done. Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he had sent Brussels a new solution to the border problem between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. At the same time, he noted that the UK will leave the EU on October 31, even if the deal fails.
Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s main Brexit negotiator, announced significant progress in negotiations with the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed his EU exit plan. However, Barnier did not assess the proposal of the British leader, emphasizing only that there was still a lot of work, especially on the issue of Northern Ireland. After the United Kingdom leaves the EU, only this territory will have a land border with the union.
Johnson announced new suggestions for Brexit on October 2, speaking at the congress of the Conservative Party in Manchester.
“We are making, as I believe, constructive and reasonable offers that represent a compromise solution for both sides”, – the British Prime Minister explained.
According to Johnson, his plan, known in the media as “Two Borders in Four Years”, is Britain’s latest Brexit proposal. If it is not accepted, the country will still leave the European Union within the previously agreed period.
“On October 31, we are leaving the EU, and whatever happens”, – Johnson said.
Earlier, the British Parliament passed a law requiring the Prime Minister to request the European Union to delay Brexit until January 31, 2020, if by October 19 it is not possible to agree on the terms of the deal with the EU. Thus, with his statement, Johnson confirmed that he intends to ignore the decision of the parliamentarians.
Presently, the main obstacle to an agreement with the EU is the issue of the status of Northern Ireland, experts say. Now between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, there is no border and customs control, since both states are members of the EU. London and Brussels are trying to find a way to avoid introducing border controls after Brexit in order to avoid the negative consequences of breaking economic ties between different parts of the island.
“The European Union offers a compromise: keeping Northern Ireland and the whole of Great Britain in the customs union with the EU for an indefinite period – the so-called back-stop. However, this option, in turn, does not suit London, which believes that the adoption of such a proposal contradicts the idea of Brexit itself”, – Alexander Tevdoi-Burmuli, associate professor of integration processes at MGIMO, explained in an interview with RT.
“A wrong offer”
A letter from Boris Johnson was published on the government website late in the evening of October 2. In it, the Prime Minister declared the backstop, which he called the “bridge to nowhere”, unacceptable.
The document speaks of the possibility of creating a single “special regulation zone” that will apply to the entire island of Ireland and to all categories of goods, including agricultural products. This, according to Johnson, will allow to avoid regulatory control when moving goods across the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, since the standards in Northern Ireland will comply with EU legal regulations.
At the same time, the British Prime Minister notes that the existence of this zone should be approved by the authorities of Northern Ireland. The leadership of the region must give its consent to the creation of the zone before it takes effect, that is, after the start of the transition period, which will last until December 31, 2020, and then confirm this decision every four years. Otherwise, the zone will cease to function.
Johnson also notes that compliance with EU and UK customs regulations should be carried out “on a decentralized basis” – work with documents is carried out in electronic form, and the necessary “physical” checks should be carried out at various stages of the supply chain. To do this, the British Prime Minister proposes to improve and simplify existing customs regulations during the transition period.
“It may happen that in Northern Ireland, the remaining part of the UK, EU standards will continue to apply after Brexit”, – Alexander Tevdoi-Burmuli explained.
The expert also recalled that since Britain will be left with the right to conduct its own trade policy (as Johnson plans), it is likely to conclude a free trade agreement with the United States, which was discussed during negotiations in August this year between the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab and U.S. President Donald Trump.
In Ireland itself, they were skeptical about Johnson’s plan. Simon Coveny, Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic, said in an interview with Reuters that the proposals of the British Prime Minister are unlikely to form the basis of the UK agreement with the EU. At the same time, the Democratic Unionist Party, representing the interests of the Protestants of Northern Ireland, supported Johnson. He attended her congress before coming to the congress of conservatives.
In turn, the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in a telephone conversation with Johnson, said that EU governing bodies will study the proposals of the British Prime Minister, reports Reuters. At the same time, the statement of the European Commission, quoted by the agency, notes that, despite the positive message, the Prime Minister has a number of controversial issues.
Such cautious or negative assessments of the proposals of the British Prime Minister are understandable and understandable, says Tevdoi-Burmuli.
“Northern Ireland may either exit the single European market or not exit. The common market implies both free duty-free circulation of goods and uniform regulatory standards. It is not clear how one can separate one from another”, – he explained in an interview with RT.
In turn, Tatyana Romanova, associate professor of the Department of European Studies at St. Petersburg State University, believes that Johnson has a rational plan.
“It helps to preserve the territorial integrity of Great Britain and at the same time ensures that the terms of the 1997 peace agreement (an agreement that put an end to the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland caused by disputes over the status of the region. – RT) will be implemented. But at the same time, the European Union has repeatedly stated that it has already made maximum concessions to the UK”, – she says.
Romanova also recalled that in the summer the leadership changed in the EU. At the same time, the old team has not yet left, and the new one has not yet arrived. So, there is simply no one to take responsible difficult decisions in the leadership of the European Union, the expert believes.
According to Tevda-Burmuli, the European Union most likely will not accept Johnson’s plan.
“He will be politely told that this is not a proposal that should be discussed”, – the expert is sure.
Brexit without Johnson
Meanwhile, British media have reported that the Parliament is considering the possibility of impeaching Johnson. It is reported that an offer to start the impeachment procedure has already been made by the Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales), a member of the Parliament.
With this option, Johnson will leave, but the government will remain, and early elections will not be held.
True, Plaid Cymru has only three seats in the House of Commons, and she needs to find allies, reminds Tevdoy-Burmuli. Also, one should not forget that impeachment takes time. Until the end of the month they simply will not have time to spend it, says Tevda-Burmuli. In addition, the last time they tried to declare impeachment to the Prime Minister in 1848, and then this attempt ended in failure.
The Head of the government changed ahead of schedule in the UK only when he lost the support of the ruling party. And the conservatives, with all the dissatisfaction with Johnson, did not speak against him at the party congress in Manchester.
According to Tevda-Burmuli, Johnson is likely to be replaced by a vote of no confidence.
“Then the whole cabinet will resign and there will be new parliamentary elections. In principle, I do not rule out the possibility that Johnson’s opponents will manage to arrange a vote and early elections by October 31. If the government changes, then some options for Brexit are possible”, – the expert believes.
However, Tatyana Romanova believes that the issue of removing Johnson from power is not considered as a near-term prospect.
“The conservative party is indeed in the worst position in recent years. Its popularity is declining, Johnson does not completely control it. But at the same time, it is obvious to conservatives that the issue of Brexit needs to be addressed in some way. Therefore, the displacement of Johnson would further complicate their already insoluble task”, – said Tatyana Romanova.
According to the expert, Johnson will still be given the opportunity to finalize it by October 31.
“With all the difficulties that the EU and the UK have, both there and there are few who want Brexit without a deal. Therefore, in Brussels, they would rather agree to give the British more time to think than to break up relations without a deal”, – the expert concluded.