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Boris Johnson to Make His ‘Final’ Brexit Offer: My Deal or No Deal

Robert Hutton
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Boris Johnson to Make His ‘Final’ Brexit Offer: My Deal or No Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson will on Wednesday send his final Brexit offer to the European Union, warning that he’ll walk away from the table and take Britain out of the bloc without a deal if Brussels doesn’t engage with him.

Addressing his Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester, England, the prime minister will issue an ultimatum to Brussels. But as details of his proposals were reported by the Telegraph newspaper late on Tuesday, the EU side looked likely to reject them. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it didn’t look like the basis for a deal, and described the report as “concerning.”

Johnson will propose scrapping the so-called Irish border backstop -- the most toxic part of the deal that his predecessor signed -- and instead placing Northern Ireland in a temporary regime with a time limit, according to the Telegraph. Customs checks would be required between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland -- something Ireland and the EU oppose.

If talks collapse, the U.K. risks crashing out of the bloc without a deal. Johnson is vowing to defy efforts by the British Parliament to prevent a no-deal exit. His office said on Tuesday that he would never negotiate the extension to EU membership that new legislation demands if he can’t secure an agreement.

If he can’t get a deal and he doesn’t seek a delay, he will probably find himself fighting members of parliament in court -- and could even be ousted.

“The prime minister will in no circumstances negotiate a delay,” his office said.

Johnson will describe his offer as a “fair and reasonable compromise” that both sides can agree on. The prime minister’s office said this would be his “final” proposal and -- if rejected -- the U.K. would walk away and begin preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

This week had seen some hints that there might be a way to get a deal. Tory MPs who refused to vote for the agreement that Theresa May negotiated suggested they could be persuaded to back a deal to avoid losing Brexit altogether. The Democratic Unionist Party -- a key ally from Northern Ireland -- has been publicly supportive of Johnson and his negotiating efforts. Johnson said at an event in Manchester alongside DUP figures late Tuesday that he hoped to clinch a deal in the next few days.

In an interview with The Sun newspaper on Tuesday, the premier set a new 10-day deadline for reaching a deal by Oct. 11.

Meanwhile it emerged that European governments have privately discussed allowing a time limit on the so-called Irish backstop -- the most controversial part of the deal, according to two people familiar with the situation. But the time limit would only be on offer if Johnson puts forward a workable proposal, officials said.

With less than a month to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, everything still hangs on the question of the Irish border. Once the U.K. has left the EU’s customs union, there will need to be border controls, but both sides say they’re opposed to physical infrastructure such as checkpoints on the frontier.

Johnson has said he wants to abolish the backstop -- designed as an insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland -- because it risks trapping the U.K. in EU rules indefinitely. In interviews this week he said customs checks of some kind would be needed on the island of Ireland as a consequence of the EU’s demands to protect its single market. The tone of his comments alarmed some in Brussels.

“There will have to be a system, for customs checks away from the border,” the prime minister said in an interview with the BBC. “That is where the argument is going to be. And that’s where the negotiation will be tough.”

(Adds Telegraph report.)

--With assistance from Kitty Donaldson, Jessica Shankleman, Alex Morales, Thomas Penny, Stuart Biggs, Tim Ross and Ian Wishart.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in Manchester, England at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Emma Ross-Thomas

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