Boris Johnson has written to European Council president Donald Tusk, demanding the scrapping of the “anti-democratic” Irish backstop as a prerequisite for any deal with Brussels.
In a four-page letter, the prime minister argued that the backstop would undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland and weaken British sovereignty, and called for it to be replaced with a mutual commitment to “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Johnson told Tusk his opposition to the backstop runs “far deeper” than the fact it has been rejected by MPs on three occasions. He said that it was “inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state” and locked Britain into an international treaty that binds the country into a customs union with the European Union.
“It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain,” he said. “The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation that applies to them. That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.”
Johnson's letter to Tusk comes ahead of crunch meetings this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Guardian says the missive “appears intended to portray Johnson as willing to negotiate with Brussels, even though he is making a demand for the abolition of the backstop that they have repeatedly rebuffed”.
And indeed, The Times says the demands in the four-page letter “will increase concerns that Britain will leave the EU without a deal on October 31”.
The BBC reports that the so-called alternative arrangements are simply too ambiguous to win the support of senior EU diplomats, who “wonder whether they are being asked to sign up to something that is too vague, too difficult to achieve, or just too hard for them to accept”.
One diplomat said: “In three years the UK has not even offered so much as a shimmer of a solution on how to avoid a border on the island of Ireland. This letter is no different. Three years on but no further.”
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd expressed frustration with what he called a “fantasy-land wishlist”.
“Whichever Brexit outcome he pursues, whether it's a disastrous no deal or this fantasy-land wish list, Boris Johnson clearly has no qualms about putting jobs, rights, prosperity or peace in Northern Ireland at risk,” he said.