UK government publishes Brexit proposals

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech onstage on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 2, 2019 in Manchester, England. The U.K. government prepares to formally submit its finalised Brexit plan to the EU today. The offer replaces the Northern Irish Backstop with border, customs and regulatory checks lasting until 2025. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The UK government has published its Brexit proposals to the EU, including plans to replace the Irish backstop.

The plan would see Northern Ireland essentially stay in the European single market for goods through the creation of an “all-island regulatory zone”.

The Northern Ireland Assembly would have to approve the arrangements first and be able to vote every four years on whether to keep them.

The European Commission says it will “examine the proposals objectively”.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, Mr Johnson said the only alternative to his plan was no-deal.

He has written to the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, alongside the proposals, saying they “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”.

Speaking before he saw the plan, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Parliament: “What we are hearing is not encouraging and would not be the basis for agreement.”

The UK is set to leave the EU on 31 October and the government has insisted it will not negotiate a further delay beyond the Halloween deadline.

However, under the terms of a law passed by Parliament last month, the PM faces having to request another extension unless MPs back the terms of withdrawal by 19 October two days after a summit of European leaders.

Proposal

The PM’s plan centres on replacing the backstop the policy negotiated between Theresa May and EU to try and prevent hard borders returning to the island of Ireland.

Mr Johnson has called it “anti-democratic”, claiming it offers no means for the UK to unilaterally exit and no say for the people of Northern Ireland over the rules that would apply there.

His offer to the EU of an “all-island regulatory zone” would mean Northern Ireland would have to follow EU rules for goods.

There would be additional checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but no further checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Ireland.

However, Northern Ireland would leave the EU customs union with the rest of the UK, so there would have to be new customs checks between North and South.

The government proposals suggest the vast majority of checks could be carried out electronically but thinks a small number of physical checks would have to take place, either at business premises or at points on the supply chain.

The Stormont Assembly and Northern Ireland’s parliament would have to agree these proposals through a vote and would be given a vote every four years on whether to preserve them.

The government is also promising a “New Deal for Northern Ireland”, with financial commitments to help manage the changes.

Olusola Akintonde.