Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan: What happens next?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will table the Government’s formal proposals for a new Brexit deal with Brussels in the coming days.

– What are the issues which need to be resolved?

Inevitably, it comes down to the Northern Ireland backstop – the insurance policy intended to guarantee there is no return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May, if at the end of the transition period after Britain leaves the EU there is no long-term trade agreement with Brussels in place, the UK would effectively remain part of the EU customs union while negotiations continue.

Mr Johnson, however, says this is unacceptable as it could potentially leave Britain tied to EU customs arrangements indefinitely, leaving it unable to strike trade deals with other countries around the world.

It would also mean the UK would remain subject to EU regulations over which it would have no say.

Main NI border crossings
(PA Graphics)

– What is Mr Johnson’s alternative?

The full details have yet to be announced but some of the elements are becoming clear. One part of the package is for an all-Ireland regime for agri-food products, avoiding the need for checks at the border.

At the same time, Mr Johnson is adamant that the UK – including Northern Ireland – is leaving the customs union, so the second part would involve “de-dramatising” the controls for other goods that would be required.

– How would they do that?

The Irish broadcaster RTE reported that British officials have suggested the checks could be carried out at a series of “customs clearance centres” situated between five and 10 miles back from the border on either side.

However, Mr Johnson has insisted that is not the UK plan – but has yet to say what exactly he is proposing.

The Irish border remains the key sticking point in the negotiations (Brian Lawless/PA)

– What has been the reaction in the EU?

So far, pretty dismissive. Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney rejected the idea of customs posts away from the border as a “non-starter”. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has repeatedly complained that he has yet to see any “workable and legally operative” proposals from the UK side.

– How long have they got to get a deal?

Time is running out fast. The next EU summit in Brussels is set for October 17 and 18, which would be an opportunity for leaders to sign off on a deal ahead of Britain’s scheduled withdrawal on October 31.

Negotiations could continue after that – particularly if there were real signs of progress. However, the timings would become incredibly tight, not least because an agreement would need not only the approval of EU leaders, who are not scheduled to meet again before October 31, but Parliament as well.

– What happens if they cannot get a deal?

Boris Johnson has said he will publish his proposals for a Brexit deal in the next few days (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Under the terms of the Benn Act, if there is no deal by October 19 the Prime Minister is required to go back to Brussels to ask for a further extension to Britain’s withdrawal date.

While Mr Johnson has said that he will abide by the law, he has also been adamant that Britain is leaving on October 31 come what may. How, in the absence of a deal, he could meet both commitments he has yet to explain.

There has been speculation that he could try to override the Benn Act – possibly through an order of the Privy Council or even by invoking civil contingency laws.

However, legal experts believe the suggestions floated so far are all non-runners. So watch this space.

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