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Boris Johnson says his Brexit plan will not have checks at Irish border

Here's what you need to know about Brexit
03:38

What we covered here

  • Brexit offer: Johnson has made a new offer to Brussels, insisting on ditching the “Irish backstop.”
  • Checks at businesses’ premises: In a letter to the EU, Johnson conceded some customs checks will be needed in Ireland after Brexit, but suggested these can be done on a “decentralized basis.”
  • Ireland already cautious: Officials in Dublin said the leaked proposals are incompatible with the promise to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • EU still sees problems: The European Commission said the proposal offers some “positive advances,” but “will need further work in the coming days.”
  • Johnson’s big speech: Earlier, the PM took the stage on the final day of the Conservative Party conference, his first as party leader, promising to “Get Brexit done.”
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Our live coverage has ended. For full analysis of the day’s events, click here.

Labour says the government's new Brexit plan is worse than Theresa May's

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, has said he does not think the Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan will get EU support, claiming it is worse than the deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

“It’s worse than Theresa May’s deal,” he told reporters. “I can’t see it getting support that he thinks it will get and it will take us into a regime in Britain of deregulation, of undercutting, and I think also undermining the Good Friday agreement.”

The Labour Leader also said the proposal is “very unspecific on how the Good Friday agreement can be upheld.”

Jeremy Corbyn, opposition Labour Party leader

The 1998 Good Friday agreement ended decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. Its requirement that there be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has been a major sticking point in the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU.

Corbyn added: “I’m sure he knows full well that what he’s put forward is unlikely to be agreed. What he hasn’t acknowledged is that he has a duty under the EU (No 2) Act, the act of parliament, that requires him to apply for an extension in the event of no agreement being reached.” 

EU says "further work is needed"

The European Commission has said that while Boris Johnson’s new proposal offers some “positive advances,” “there are still some problematic points that will need further work in the coming days.”

The Commission has released a statement following a phone call between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker.

It said:

President Juncker welcomed Prime Minister Johnson’s determination to advance the talks ahead of the October European Council and make progress towards a deal. He acknowledged the positive advances, notably with regards to the full regulatory alignment for all goods and the control of goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. However, the President also noted that there are still some problematic points that will need further work in the coming days, notably with regards to the governance of the backstop.

The Commission said that the “delicate balance struck by the Good Friday Agreement must be preserved.” The 1998 peace deal that ended the decades-long conflict that claimed the lives of 3,000 people states there must not be any physical infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The statement also said:

Another concern that needs to be addressed are the substantive customs rules. He also stressed that we must have a legally operational solution that meets all the objectives of the backstop: preventing a hard border, preserving North-South cooperation and the all-island economy, and protecting the EU’s Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.

The statement stressed the “EU wants a deal.”

“We remain united and ready to work 24/7 to make this happen – as we have been for over three years now,” it said.

It added that meetings between the UK and EU are expected to take place over the coming days.

Arch-Brexiteer says Johnson's plan is "like putting your head in a crocodile's mouth"

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit party and the loudest of all Brexiteers, has added his two cents to the debate about Boris Johnson’s new proposals.

Farage is hoping that some disillusioned Brexit-supporting Conservative voters will switch to the Brexit Party in the next general election.

On Wednesday, he delivered a stark rebuke to Johnson’s plan, saying it provides no guarantee the UK will leave the customs union.

Opposition is not impressed

The leaders of British opposition parties have expressed doubts that Boris Johnson’s new Brexit proposals will go down well in Brussels.

Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, said she believes the plan might have been designed to fail.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky the new plan was “not acceptable” and “worse” than what Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May proposed.

Plan promises a "new deal for Northern Ireland"

Boris Johnson desperately needs to sell his proposal to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Northern Irish party that was propping up his government in Parliament until he lost his majority last month.

The DUP’s main purpose is keeping Northern Ireland inside the United Kingdom. It campaigned for Brexit, but its members have since said that keeping the union together is more important than leaving the EU.

In the letter, Johnson appears to hint his proposal will come with a sweetener for the DUP:

The letter also says that Northern Ireland will have a say in how the proposal will work in practice:

The DUP is used to getting sweet deals. Boris Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May struck a “confidence and supply agreement” with the party, promising Northern Ireland £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in funding in exchange for the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland supporting her minority government.

That deal is set to expire at the end of this Parliament.

DUP indicated on Wednesday it would back the proposal. In a statement, it said the plan is consistent with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, at the Conservative Party Conference.

Irish PM: New Brexit proposal is "not promising"

The Brexit proposal put forward by Boris Johnson to the EU “does not look promising so far from what we have heard,” according to the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar said Johnson needs to “listen to the people of Northern Ireland, who did not vote for Brexit” and do not want physical checks.

Varadkar said he will speak to Johnson later Wednesday.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar isn't too impressed with the new proposal.

Read the PM's letter to European leaders

Here is the first part of the letter that Boris Johnson sent to the EU on Wednesday:

There is now very little time in which to negotiate a new Agreement between the UK and the EU under Article 50. We need to get this done before the October European Council.
This Government wants to get a deal, as I am sure we all do. If we cannot reach one, it would represent a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible. Our predecessors have tackled harder problems: we can surely solve this one.

Boris Johnson has made a new offer to the EU.

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. 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.

Read the full letter here.

Northern Ireland to be part of UK customs territory

Johnson’s proposal envisions Northern Ireland being part of the UK customs territory after Brexit.

That would keep it out of the EU single market after the transition period.

“It has always been a fundamental point for this Government that the UK will leave the EU customs union at the end of the transition period. We must do so whole and entire. Control of trade policy is fundamental to our future vision.”

The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be a customs border. That does not mean that customs checks and controls need to take place at, or even near, that border. Instead, we are making a proposal which ensures that no customs controls necessary to ensure compliance with the UK and EU customs regimes will take place at or near the border. This system will be underpinned by continuing close cooperation between UK and Irish authorities.”

Johnson adopts a much softer tone in the letter

The letter sent to the EU on Wednesday is fairly mellow compared to what some British media expected based on the leaks and Boris Johnson’s conference speech.

Before the letter was published, the proposal was largely framed as “the final offer” and “take it or leave it” proposition.

But nowhere in the letter does Johnson actually suggest this is his final offer. He also doesn’t threaten to take the UK out of the EU without a deal should Brussels reject his plan.

In fact, he says the proposal should “provide basis for rapid negotiations” and “the broad landing zone in which I believe a deal can begin to take shape.”

Merkel insists EU remains united on Brexit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the 27 remaining EU member states would look at the UK Brexit proposals together and evaluate them.

“We are staying together as 27 and we trust Michel Barnier [the EU negotiator],” Merkel said at a joint news conference with the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Berlin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met in Berlin on Wednesday.

Johnson's proposal is for physical checks "at traders' premises"

The main hurdle in the Brexit negotiations boils down to a single issue: the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which will remain an EU member.

A 1998 peace agreement, called the Good Friday Agreement, explicitly prohibits any physical checks at the border. The EU wants to safeguard this provision – and its solution is the so-called “Brexit backstop.” Johnson’s government hates that clause and wants to ditch it.

In the letter sent to the EU leaders, Johnson concedes that a “very small number of physical checks” will be needed.

However, he proposed these checks could take place “at traders’ premises or other points along the supply chain.”

Johnson sends a letter to EU outlining proposal

Boris Johnson’s letter to EU leaders has just been released.

It outlines the new proposals, which it says is fully compatible with the Good Friday Agreement.

EU diplomat: EU "can't stop Boris Johnson crashing his Spitfire"

An EU diplomat, who has seen Boris Johnson’s reported new Brexit plan, told CNN the UK will need to convince the EU why it “should entertain this proposal.”

The diplomat said:

“Take it or leave it. The UK is leaving the EU not the other way around.
If Boris Johnson wants to crash his Spitfire in the middle of the northern Irish border we would prefer him not too but we can’t stop him either.
If there is the making of a narrow path – through a mutual satisfactory solution – clear in the next three days, we will entertain the proposal.”

Boris Johnson needs to throw someone under a bus over Brexit

Boris Johnson has set the UK on course for a Brexit showdown. 

Giving the keynote speech to his Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, England, the British Prime Minister told a packed conference hall that deal or no deal, the UK is “coming out of the EU on October 31, come what may.”

So far, so predictable – and the audience of party activists and lawmaker duly lapped it up. Johnson, after all, is the man who will “get Brexit done.”

Boris Johnson pictured during the 2016 referendum campaign in front of the Brexit campaign bus sporting the infamous slogan.

But his language on Britain’s broader relationship with Europe was markedly softer.  “This is not an anti-European party and it is not an anti-European country. We love Europe,” he said. The response from the conference hall was decidedly muted. “Well, I do, anyway,” Johnson muttered. 

Whatever the reaction to Johnson in Manchester, it doesn’t change the scale of the challenge he faces both in Westminster and Brussels.

Read the full analysis here.

Delegates "inspired" by Johnson's conference speech

CNN’s Nina Dos Santos has surveyed the mood at the Conservative Party conference following Boris Johnson’s speech.

Here is a selection of reaction from delegates:  

“Inspiring, it gave me a lot of hope … because I think we might just get out of Europe.

“Barnstorming, fabulous and especially directed at the electorate, at the country and the EU.” 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves the conference hall with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds.

“I think it was great and I just hope the EU was listening because we love Europe and we want to stay part of it. But we don’t want to be part of the EU and I thought it was brilliant.”

“Entertaining, intelligent, fairly factual. So this is what people want to hear.”

“The room was absolutely passionate – he electrified the room. Everyone is firmly behind Boris as leader.”

Businesses "not ready to cope" with no-deal Brexit

British businesses appealed for the UK Prime Minister to reach a Brexit deal with the EU, saying companies are not ready to cope with a no-deal exit.

Boris Johnson insisted again on Wednesday that Brexit will happen at the end of the month, with or without a deal.

In reaction, Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

Businesses have warned no-deal Brexit would hurt them.

In pictures: Boris Johnson's big conference speech

This was Boris Johnson's first conference speech as party leader.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson embraces his partner Carrie Symonds after the speech.
Johnson received a warm welcome in the auditorium.
Delegates wave flags during the speech.

Meanwhile in Parliament, Diane Abbot makes history

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has become the first black MP to represent their party at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The debating chamber was somewhat depleted because most Conservative MPs are in Manchester for their party’s conference.

Diane Abbott pictured in London last week.

It is customary for Parliament to be suspended for the conference season. However, this year’s suspension became highly controversial after the government insisted Parliament would be shut for five weeks just before Brexit.

The Supreme Court ruled the prorogation unlawful and the lawmakers returned to work.

And when the government asked for Parliament to be suspended for the Conservative Conference, Parliament refused.

Boris Johnson's first speech as leader: A verdict

Boris Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister to his Conservative party faithful went down well enough. But it might have left supporters who have wanted him to lead their party for years feeling a little flat. 

In some respects, it was classic Johnson.

The UK will leave the EU on October 31, “come what may.”

In many ways, the speech was "classic Johnson."

There were spending pledges for his domestic audience and attacks on the leader of the opposition Labour party as “fratricidal anti-Semitic Marxists.”

It was a feel-good speech, rather than a policy heavy speech.

Johnson played up the prospect of leaving without a deal – something that goes down well with the Conservative party membership. But he also said that “this is not an anti-European party and it is not an anti-European country. We love Europe. We are European.”

This was somewhat less appreciated by the membership than the revelation that Johnson’s mother voted for Brexit. 

Johnson has on the whole had a good first conference as leader. However, one thing that scares the Brexit-supporting party membership is whether Johnson will sell them out when the going gets tough. 

This speech will have done little to reassure them that Johnson is 100% on their side. 

Meanwhile in Brussels...

Mina Andreeva, the chief spokesperson for the European Commission, said the EU will look at Boris Johnson’s new proposal “objectively.”

“We want to enter into constructive discussions. We are working for a deal and any deal should of course be a good deal,” she said.

Andreeva added the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker is set to have a phone call with Johnson later Wednesday.

“Once received we will examine it objectively and in light of our well-known criteria. We will listen very carefully to the United Kingdom,” she said.

Boris Johnson will speak to the European Commission's President later on Wednesday.

What a difference a year makes

More from CNN’s Luke McGee at the conference in Manchester:

Johnson: If Brexit talks fail 'no deal' is the alternative

Boris Johnson said that if the EU rejects his Brexit proposal, the alternative is a no-deal Brexit.

The Prime Minister insisted that if talks fail over the sticky Irish border issue, there is “no doubt that the alternative is no deal.”

“That is not an outcome we want. It is not an outcome we seek at all,” he said, adding that the UK is nevertheless ready for a no-deal outcome.

The Conservative Party has the leader it's wanted for years

Boris Johnson is a very popular man. At least, that’s how it seems on listening to his speech to the party faithful in Manchester, England.

The whole conference has had the PM’s stamp on it, from his messaging on Brexit dominating the narrative at events, to delegates chanting his name as he breezed through hotel bars and into the conference hall. 

Hours before he started speaking on Wednesday, the queue to see him speak snaked around the conference center. And when he entered the room himself, the “Boris” chants, clapping and foot-stamping were so loud the floor shook. 

Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference.

His fans have also defended Johnson as the media tried to ask questions about the scandals surrounding his personal life that have cast a shadow over this conference. (Here is a video I made of the PM entering conference center and the press being yelled at.)

Those scandals and political problems are serious. But here in Manchester, no one cares.

The Conservative Party finally has the leader it’s secretly wanted for years. 

Johnson outlines other policies

Aside from all the Brexit talk, Prime Minister Johnson also outlined some of his government’s policies – although he was fairly thin on details.

In summary, here are the main promises:

  • More funding for schools
  • Better roads and transportation links, including “northern powerhouse” railway and new clean buses accepting contactless payments
  • Investment into healthcare and technology
  • Creating high-wage, low-tax environment for high-skilled workers
  • An Australian-style points based system for immigration

Johnson makes questionable £1 billion claim

Boris Johnson keeps repeating a claim that delaying Brexit would cost the United Kingdom £1 billion ($1.2 billion) a month:

The claim, however, is dubious. Full Fact, the UK’s independent factchecking charity, called it wrong. It said:

Boris Johnson says his mother voted for leave in the referendum

Boris Johnson has mentioned his mother during his keynote speech. Johnson rarely speaks about his family, possibly because of the famous disagreements within the clan over Brexit.

Johnson’s brother Jo Johnson recently resigned from the government, saying he was “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.”

The Prime Minister’s sister Rachel is opposed to Brexit, while his father Stanley voted remain but later switched allegiances.

But the PM revealed that his mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl, was on his side in the debate:

“By the way, for keen students of the divisions in my family, you might know that I have kept the ace up my sleeve – my mother voted leave”

When the PM made that proclamation, Johnson’s father Stanley turned to the PM’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds sitting next to him, and whispered something. Keen watchers on Twitter say he mouthed “I didn’t know that.”

PM pledges no checks "at or near the border in Northern Ireland"

Boris Johnson said he will present Brussels with what he believed were “constructive and reasonable proposals, which provide a compromise for both sides.”

He then went on to make a number of promises related to the Irish border issue.

A reminder: the border has been the main sticking point in the Brexit negotiations. Both sides agree that in line with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there cannot be any border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which will remain part of the UK.

He said:

However, he did not go into the details of his new proposal. And the EU has said repeatedly that the details matter the most.

Johnson launches attack on Parliament

The Prime Minister has gone straight into an attack on Parliament.

Boris Johnson has been furious with Parliament’s attempts to frustrate his plan to leave the option of leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of October 31 on the table.

Johnson being Johnson, he tried to include a number of jokes in his speech to demonstrate just how useless – in his opinion – Parliament has been:

“And the sad truth is that voters have more say over ‘I’m a Celebrity’ than they do over this House of Commons,” he said referring to a British reality TV show.

Johnson launched straight into an attack on Parliament.

Johnson starts by thanking Theresa May

Boris Johnson has started by paying tribute to his predecessor Theresa May.

He says he aims to continue her work in many of the priority areas, including education and healthcare.

He also thanks Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Johnson to say people want "to move on"

Brexit is likely going to be at the center of the Prime Minister’s speech on Wednesday.

One line he is bound to repeat several time is his current slogan: “Let’s get Brexit Done.”

The motto has been printed on posters and displayed around the conference venue.

He is expected to say:

Johnson has arrived for his keynote speech

Boris Johnson is in the house.

The Prime Minister has arrived at the Conservative Party Conference venue in Manchester to deliver his keynote speech.

Just before that, he tweeted a cartoon image of himself, alerting his fans to the fact that he “is now on Snapchat.”

The queue to see the PM is long. Really, really long

The Prime Minister’s speech is seen as the pinnacle of the Conservative Party conference, an unmissable moment everyone wants to attend.

Boris Johnson is not scheduled to speak until around noon, but the queue to get into the auditorium is already pretty long.

Johnson's "take it or leave it" offer is problematic

Boris Johnson is expected to reiterate on Wednesday that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on October 31.

“We are coming out of the EU on October 31. Let’s get Brexit done – we can, we must and we will,” he will tell the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, northwest England.

That promise might prove tricky to keep.

To prevent the country from crashing out of the EU without a deal, Parliament has passed a law, known as the Benn Act, that requires the Prime Minister to ask for a delay if no deal is agreed by October 19. 

Boris Johnson would seem to be running out of options -- and time -- on Brexit.

Downing Street officials said Thursday Johnson will “in no circumstances” negotiate a delay at the EU summit.

If the EU rejects his new deal, which the government says is the final offer, Johnson risks being cornered – unless he can find a loophole that would still allow him to leave the EU without a deal.

One option floated by some MPs is to simply force the EU to reject the request for a delay. Another way might be for the government to pass a new law that would overrule the Benn Act – but without a parliamentary majority, that would seem improbable.

Boris Johnson's cup has a photo of Boris Johnson on it

Downing Street has released a photo of Boris Johnson preparing for his conference speech.

Eagle eyes will spot the mug strategically placed in front of Johnson. It features a photo of the Prime Minister. We are not judging, a coffee mug is a highly personal choice.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares his speech for the Conservative Party conference.

The picture comes just a few hours after another Johnson mug incident.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was captured being handed a disposable cup (a big PR no-no), only for an aide to promptly snatch it away from him.

“No disposable cups!” the aide said after confiscating the beverage.

What is this new offer?

The new Brexit proposal has been leaked to the Daily Telegraph, perhaps unsurprisingly given Boris Johnson’s past employment by the paper.

According to the newspaper, the new proposal would replace the existing Irish backstop, the part of the agreement meant to prevent a return of hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, with an alternative, time-limited plan.

The newspaper said the Prime Minister envisions a “two borders for four years” plan that would “leave Northern Ireland in a special relationship with Europe until 2025.”

However, Irish officials have already said that if the leaked proposals are true, they are problematic.

The Irish border remains a controversial point in the negotiations.

Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee, told Ireland’s RTE broadcaster the proposal wouldn’t be in line with the commitments made under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Ireland following decades of violent conflict. 

Under that agreement, no physical border infrastructure can be placed at the border.

“It is talking about a time limit, which is not acceptable, it is still talking about the need and requirement for customs checks,” McEntee said.

Johnson to make "final" Brexit offer

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to make a “final” Brexit offer to Brussels on Wednesday, insisting that if the European Union doesn’t engage with the proposal, his government will not negotiate further until after Brexit.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference later on Wednesday, the PM is expected to say the new proposal represents a “fair and reasonable compromise” that all sides can agree and build on.

“My friends, I am afraid that after three and a half years people are beginning to feel that they are being taken for fools,” Johnson is expected to tell the conference. 

Delegates queue to enter the Conservative Party conference.

He will also insist the United Kingdom “can, must and will” leave the European Union on October 31.