BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain’s latest British proposal on Brexit, as reported by media, is “fundamentally flawed” and “won’t fly”, EU diplomats and officials said on Wednesday, adding that another delay to Britain’s departure is likely if this is London’s final offer.
“The proposal is fundamentally flawed,” a senior European Union official said, referring to detail reported by the Daily Telegraph and several other British media outlets on what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said would be his final bid to get a deal done before Britain is due to leave on Oct. 31.
“If it’s take it or leave it, we better close the book and start talking about the modalities of an extension,” the official said.
He said EU heavyweights France and Germany would not press Ireland to accept the proposal being offered by Britain that would affect its currently open border with Northern Ireland.
The other 27 EU member states would not reject a request from Britain to extend its deadline beyond Oct. 31 because it would not want to be held responsible for failure.
“If they want to commit a stupidity it should be fully their responsibility,” the official said. “The EU will never push the UK out, the Union will never close the door.”
The EU has repeatedly asked Britain to come up with “legal and operational” proposals for changes Johnson wants to a Withdrawal Agreement that his predecessor Theresa May negotiated with the bloc last year.
Johnson wants changes over arrangements with the bloc for the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
On Wednesday Johnson will announce a final offer to the EU and say that, if Brussels does not engage with it, Britain will stop talking and leave on Oct. 31 regardless.
The Telegraph cited a briefing to European capitals to report that Britain was proposing to leave Northern Ireland in a special trading relationship with the EU until 2025, after which Belfast would decide whether to remain aligned to the bloc or return to following British rules.
The newspaper said London was proposing that Northern Ireland leave the EU customs union at the end of the transition period in 2021 alongside Britain, which would move directly into a Free Trade Agreement with Europe.
Customs checks would take place at a distance from the Ireland-Northern Ireland border – which will have become the border of the EU’s tariff-free internal market.
The senior official said this proposal does not meet all the core objectives of the Irish ‘backstop’ that was a keystone of the Withdrawal Agreement.
These objectives are: maintaining a fully open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, protecting the EU single market, and maintaining the north-south cooperation made possible by Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of conflict.
“This won’t fly. Johnson has chosen a confrontation,” an EU diplomat dealing with Brexit said. “The remaining options are – the original, Northern Ireland-only backstop with some modifications, or an extension.”
The senior EU official agreed that if Britain was open to further discussions that would lead to a deal that effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s trade orbit by drawing a border across the Irish Sea.
Johnson has ruled out the Northern Ireland-only backstop idea both publicly and in private.
“Is Johnson’s motive to position himself well for the blame game or does he genuinely want a deal? Probably we will only know at the summit (of the EU on Oct. 17-18),” a senior EU official said.
Reporting by Angus MacSwan