Johnson sets out to win backing of EU leaders for his Brexit blueprint

Boris Johnson is preparing for 10 days of “intensive discussions” as he seeks backing from EU leaders for his Brexit blueprint.

The Prime Minister has said he wants to get an agreement in place for the EU summit on October 17, paving the way for Britain to leave with a deal at the end of the month.

With the agenda for such meetings generally set several days in advance, he acknowledged there was “very little time” left.

So far, however, European leaders have reacted coolly to the plan, set out in a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, to resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

Jean-Claude Juncker (right) has told Boris Johnson his plan in ‘problematic’. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was worse than Theresa May’s three-times rejected deal and warned Mr Johnson appeared to intent on a no-deal break on October 31.

The Prime Minister will update the Cabinet, back from the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, on the way ahead when it meets on Thursday in Downing Street.

He has already spoken to Mr Juncker, Irish premier Leo Varadkar, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with more talks expected with other leaders over the coming days.

Mr Johnson said his plan, which would see Northern Ireland remain tied to EU single market rules for trade in goods while leaving the customs union with the rest of the UK, represented a “fair and reasonable compromise”.

However both Mr Juncker and Mr Varadkar expressed concern the return of customs controls – however light-touch – threatened the guarantee under the Good Friday agreement to maintain an open border with the Republic.

Leo Varadkar has warned the plan does not guarantee a fully open border with Northern Ireland. Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

The commission president said there were some “problematic points” while Mr Varadkar said the proposals “do not fully meet the agreed objectives” of the backstop.

Nationalists in Northern Ireland also expressed anger over a proposal requiring the suspended Stormont Assembly to approve the new arrangements, with a vote every four years.

Sinn Fein said that it would effectively hand a veto to Mr Johnson’s allies, the DUP, who have a majority in the assembly.

Under the plan, the arrangements would kick in in 2021 at the end of the proposed transition period if there was no long-term trade agreement at that point and would continue until one was in place.

An accompanying explanatory note said a system of declarations for goods traded between the North and the Republic meant only a “very small proportion” would be subject to physical customs checks.

When they were necessary, it said that they would take place well away from the border, at the traders’ premises or other designated locations.

At the same time the plan proposes a “zone of regulatory compliance” covering the entire island of Ireland, tying the North to EU rules for the trade in manufactured goods and agri-food products.

While it would mean such trades could continue across the border without regulatory controls, products moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – including livestock – would be subject to checks.

In his letter to Juncker, Mr Johnson said the proposals were “entirely compatible” with the maintenance of an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“Both sides now need to consider whether there is sufficient willingness to compromise and move beyond existing positions to get us to an agreement in time,” he said.

“We are ready to do that, and this letter sets out what I regard as a reasonable compromise: the broad landing zone in which I believe a deal can begin to take shape.”