Brussels/London (dpa/MIA) – A key group of EU lawmakers on Thursday said the European Parliament cannot accept Britain’s latest Brexit proposals, which do not “represent a basis for an agreement” in their current form.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposals “fall short and represent a significant movement away from joint commitments and objectives,” the parliament’s Brexit steering group said.
The group said it was particularly concerned by the prospect of customs checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, Britain’s plan to resolve outstanding issues within a transition period, and the dependency of the arrangement on the consent of Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly.
“I think there are two main obstacles,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said about Britain’s proposal after meeting his Swedish counterpart, Stefan Lofven, in Stockholm.
Varadkar also highlighted that there should not be “checkpoints or tariffs” and the issue of the “consent mechanism,” under which Britain wants the Northern Irish assembly to hold an initial vote on special customs arrangements for the territory, followed by a further vote in 2025.
Influential EU lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt told the BBC that Johnson was “mainly repeating the old proposals.”
The proposals give no “serious alternative” to the controversial “backstop” arrangement designed to ensure an open Irish border after Brexit, Verhofstadt said.
Johnson proposed that future customs checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland would “take place either electronically or, in the small number of cases where physical checks would be necessary, they would happen at traders’ premises or other points in the supply chain.”
The backstop has been rejected by Johnson and his pro-Brexit supporters, who believe it could keep Britain in an indefinite customs arrangement with the European Union.
But its proponents say the fall-back arrangement is essential for maintaining an open border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU with Britain, in order to preserve the territory’s fragile peace process.
The EU lawmakers said the proposals “do not address the real issues that need to be resolved if the backstop were to be removed, namely the all-island economy, the full respect of the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of the [EU] single market.”
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, or Belfast Agreement, catalysed Northern Ireland’s fragile peace process after decades of sectarian conflict.
Johnson told parliament on Thursday that Britain had shown “great flexibility.”
“If our European neighbours choose not to show a corresponding willingness to reach a deal then we shall have to leave on October 31 without an agreement, and we are ready to do so,” he said.
Johnson insisted that his proposals are “a basis for a deal” but conceded that the two sides are “some way from a resolution.”
But opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told him the proposals were “neither serious nor credible,”