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Boris Johnson reiterates vow to exit the EU by October deadline 'come what may'

Henry Nicholls, AFP | Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, October 2, 2019.

Addressing Britain’s Conservative Party conference to deliver what was billed as a “final” Brexit offer, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated that Britain would leave the EU by October 31 “come what may” and without a deal if necessary.

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“We will work for a deal with our EU friends,” said Johnson in his closing speech at the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, insisting that if the European Union did not engage with the plans, Britain would leave the bloc later this month with no divorce deal.

Johnson said the UK has compromised with its Brexit proposal and expressed hope that the European Union would compromise too.

“I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn. Because if we fail to get an agreement because of what is essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks [on the Irish border]…when that technology is improving the whole time … then let us be in no doubt that the alternative is no deal," he said.

'Two types of border' for N. Ireland in Johnson's plan

“That is not an outcome we want. It is not an outcome we seek at all. But let me tell you it is an outcome for which we are ready.”

Johnson had promised to provide details of a "fair and reasonable compromise" during his closing speech to his Conservative Party's conference. A statement issued late Tuesday stressed this was a "final offer". Johnson said he would "in no circumstances" seek to delay Brexit at the upcoming Brussels summit on October 17 and 18.

Britain's latest British proposal on Brexit, as reported by media earlier on Wednesday, 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. 

"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.

French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said Wednesday that France wants more “tangible” proposals from Britain.

“The deal that is in place today is a good deal. France is waiting for substantial modifications,” she told reporters. 

Border troubles

Johnson, a leading campaigner in the 2016 EU referendum, took office in July vowing to deliver Brexit at the end of this month in all circumstances.

But like his predecessor Theresa May, he has struggled against a hostile parliament and the complexities of untangling four decades of integration with the European Union.

He has pledged to renegotiate the exit terms May agreed with Brussels, which were rejected by the British parliament three times.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier Tuesday the EU was open to proposals "that would be compatible" with the current divorce deal.

But in their absence, the scenario "of a withdrawal on October 31, of a no-deal exit, is the most plausible," he told French lawmakers.

Johnson is focused on reworking the so-called backstop plan in May's deal, which aims to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

May's proposal would have kept Britain in an effective customs union with the EU, which critics argued would force London to abide by the bloc's rules indefinitely.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Johnson wants to keep Northern Ireland in the EU's single market until 2025, but in a customs union with the rest of Britain.

This would create two potentially new borders -- regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, and customs checks on the island of Ireland.

"We will under no circumstances have checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland," he said Wednesday. "We will respect the peace process and the Good Friday agreement."

Johnson had earlier denied a media report that he was looking at installing customs posts along the Irish border, amid outrage from Dublin.

The issue is hugely controversial, as the removal of border posts was seen as key to bringing peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of violence over British rule that left thousands dead.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: "No British government should seek to impose customs posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland."

But Johnson said it was "reality" that there would have to be checks somewhere after Brexit.

"We think those checks can be absolutely minimal and non intrusive and won't involve new infrastructure," he told the BBC.

Johnson has also faced significant opposition among MPs, and lost his wafer-thin Commons majority during a rebellion over his EU strategy earlier this month.

Twenty-one Tory MPs worked with the opposition parties to pass a law demanding the prime minister ask the EU to delay Brexit again if he fails to get a deal agreed in time.

Johnson was last week undermined by a Supreme Court ruling that found he unlawfully tried to suspend parliament.

But while his tough talk is popular with Conservative members and many Brexit voters, the only clear way to get what he wants is to strike a deal in the next two weeks and get the deal agreed in parliament.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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