British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a new round of criticism Tuesday over a supposedly leaked plan to exit the European Union that proposes “clearance zones” as an alternative to the Irish “backstop.”
The proposal outlines customs checkpoints set about 5-to-10 miles behind the Ireland-Northern Ireland border on both sides, as opposed to a backstop that would act as a soft border for trade.
The issue has been at the center of dissent among British lawmakers, who refused to approve multiple versions of a plan submitted by former Prime Minister Theresa May.
The proposal to establish customs checkpoints, instead of a backstop, was leaked Monday to Irish broadcaster RTE and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Johnson, who said he will formally submit a proposal following the Conservative Party conference this week, said the “leaked” version isn’t quite in line with his plan.
“That is not what we are proposing at all,” he told BBC Radio Tuesday, although he acknowledged that customs checks are indeed part of his future vision. “A sovereign united country must have a single customs territory … but there are plenty of ways we can facilitate north-south trade, plenty of ways we can address the problem.”
The Ireland government dismissed the idea of “clearance zones” to replace a backstop.
“It’s time the EU had a serious proposal from the U.K. [government] if a Brexit deal is to be achievable in October,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted, calling the notion of customs posts as a “non-starter.”
The EU responded only to say it has “not received any proposals from the U.K. that meet all the objectives of the backstop, as we have been reiterating and demanding.”
The government in Dublin has rejected the plan brokered by May and EU leaders and has called for normalized trade at the border that resembles the free flow of products that was allowed during London’s decades of membership in the 28-nation bloc. A backstop is effectively a trade guarantee at the Irish border regardless of future British-EU relationships.
“We have yet to see any credible alternatives to the backstop,” a spokesman for the Irish government said Tuesday.
An alternative to the backstop will be included in Johnson’s proposal, which is expected Wednesday or Thursday.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU at the end of this month. Parliament has enacted a new law, however, that bars Britain from leaving without an agreement — unless such a departure is approved by lawmakers. Negotiators have met in Belgium in recent days and an EU summit is set in Brussels for Oct. 17.