Boris Johnson has urged Brussels to “grasp the opportunity” his new Brexit proposal provides, as he repeated his vow not to delay the UK’s departure from the EU.
The prime minister insisted Britain will pack its bags and walk out on October 31, but said it remains to be seen whether Europe will “cheerily wave us off” with a deal.
Describing his blueprint for an agreement as a “practical compromise that gives ground where necessary”, Mr Johnson said it represents the UK “jumping to the island in the middle of the river”.
Writing in the Sun on Sunday, he added: “If we’re to leave with a deal, we now need the EU to jump over from its side and join us there, showing its own willingness to do a deal that the UK Parliament can support.”
But the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier poured scorn on the chances of the new proposal succeeding, reportedly telling an event in Paris: “If they do not change, I do not believe, on the basis of the mandate I have been given by the EU27, that we can advance.”
In comments reported by The Observer, he also reiterated the EU’s claim that a no-deal outcome would “never be Europe’s choice… it would always be the UK’s choice, not ours”.
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, described Jeremy Corbyn as a “serial wannabe Brexit-wrecker”, but said he has been encouraged to discover not all MPs are “so recalcitrant” in backing the proposal.
“MPs from every wing of my own Conservative Party, from Northern Ireland’s DUP, even from Jeremy Corbyn’s own ranks, have said that our proposed deal looks like one they can get behind,” Mr Johnson said.
“Where the previous Withdrawal Agreement, backstop and all, drove an almighty wedge through the heart of Parliament, I have heard positive noises from across the House.”
He said it will be more likely for the EU to accept Britain’s “outstretched hand” and make that “leap on to the island” if he is armed with a set of proposals MPs support.
He added: “So I say to our European friends: grasp the opportunity that our new proposal provides. Join us at the negotiating table in a spirit of compromise and co-operation. And let’s make Brexit work for both sides.
“We are leaving in 25 days. We can do it with a deal if the EU is willing.
“But they should be under no illusions or misapprehensions. There will be no more dither. No more delay. On October 31 we are going to get Brexit done.”
This mindset was echoed by Mr Johnson’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay who wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that the country was “approaching the moment of truth”.
He added: “We hope the EU will come to the table in the spirit of compromise and match our creativity and flexibility.
“If they do, we will leave with a new deal. If they shut the door on us, then we are prepared to leave without a deal.
“But the latter would be in neither side’s interest. It would bring disruption for us, and disruption for the EU.”
And Nicky Morgan, who voted Remain and is now culture secretary, wrote in the Observer: “I urge colleagues from across the house to come together in the national interest and look at these proposals seriously.
“The same applies to the EU – it needs to look seriously at this proposal, talk to us, and negotiate a deal that works.
“This is the best chance we have to break the deadlock and leave.”
Irish premier Leo Varadkar gave a glimmer of hope to Mr Johnson as he said a deal could be secured in the next two weeks, but he cautioned the current proposals do not form the basis for “deeper negotiations”.
Speaking in Dublin on Saturday evening, Mr Varadkar said next Friday would be a reasonable cut-off point to get a deal done ahead of the following week’s summit in Brussels – though he added an extra 24 or 48 hours could be made available for last-minute talks.
He said: “I think a deal is still possible… It is possible at the European Council summit in two weeks’ time but the current position as of today is the European Union, including Ireland, doesn’t feel that the proposals put forward by Prime Minister Johnson yet form the basis for deeper negotiations.”
Meanwhile Dutch PM Mark Rutte said he spoke to Mr Johnson on Saturday, but “important questions remain about the British proposals”.
That came after the European Commission said on Friday EU member states agree the proposals “do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.
A spokesman said discussions between the two sides would not take place this weekend, as had been anticipated, and instead the UK will be given “another opportunity to present its proposals in detail” on Monday.
But the prime minister has won the backing of former premier David Cameron, who said he “completely supports” Mr Johnson’s efforts to get a deal in Europe and take it through the Commons, adding: “That’s the best thing that could possibly happen.”
Mr Johnson’s insistence that Britain will leave at the end of the month comes after Scotland’s highest civil court heard from UK Government lawyers that Mr Johnson accepts he must send a letter requesting a delay to Brexit beyond the Halloween deadline if no deal is agreed with Parliament by October 19.