London — The U.K. government sent its proposal for a new Brexit deal to the European Union on Wednesday, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a "compromise." In a speech to members of his Conservative Party ahead of the publication of the proposed plan, Johnson said he hoped the EU would "compromise in their turn."
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on October 31, with or without a deal, thoughby Britain's Parliament means that Johnson could be required to ask the bloc for an extension to avoid a "no deal" Brexit.
The new proposal addresses what has been a major sticking point in getting a Brexit deal approved thus far: the so-called Irish "backstop."
Negotiated as part of the proposed deal between the EU and Britain's previous Prime Minister, Theresa May, the "backstop" clause had aimed to keep an open land border between Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.). It stated that the entire U.K. would effectively remain within the EU customs union until a more permanent solution to Irish cross-border movement could be agreed.
The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has remained open, virtually invisible but for signs on the road, since a 1998 peace agreement ended a bloody, decades-long sectarian conflict in the region.
Hard-line "Brexiteers" refused to accept the clause, arguing that the U.K. could effectively be beholden to EU customs rules indefinitely, as another solution to the border issue might never be found. May's proposed deal was repeatedly voted down by Britain's Parliament.
European Union officials had been adamant until this point that they had not been presented with any workable alternatives to the "backstop."
Boris Johnson's proposal
The plan put forward by Boris Johnson's government on Wednesday addresses the issue of the Irish border by proposing an "all-island regulatory zone," under which Northern Ireland would continue following EU rules for goods, despite no longer being in the European Union.
There would, therefore, be no additional checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland under the plan, though there would be new check on goods moving from other parts of the U.K. to Northern Ireland.
New customs checks would need to be established on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, however, though some would be electronic.
According to the proposal, Northern Ireland's Parliament would need to vote to agree on the plan and then vote again every four years on whether to preserve the zone.
EU officials responded on Wednesday, saying there were "still some problematic points that will need further work in the coming days," and that they would "examine the legal text objectively... The EU wants a deal. We remain united and ready to work 24/7 to make this happen — as we have been for over three years now."