Johnson strikes softer tone as European leaders 'unconvinced' by his Brexit proposal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought Thursday to build a coalition at home to back his fresh Brexit approach even as key European leaders declared that the measures he just proposed fall far short of the concessions needed to forge a deal.

EU's Donald Tusk, Ireland's Leo Varadkar skeptical of U.K. prime minister's proposals

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend Parliament in London on Thursday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking to build a coalition at home to back his new Brexit approach, even as key European leaders say the measures he just proposed fall far short of the concessions needed to forge a deal.

Johnson offered a strikingly more conciliatory tone Thursday than in his previous tempestuous appearances in the House of Commons, arguing that the changes his government just offered on regulating trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit represented a significant compromise.

He said he is focused on maintaining an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — the key sticking point to a Brexit deal. The U.K. proposes to do that by keeping Northern Ireland closely aligned to EU rules for trade in goods, possibly for an extended period.

Johnson thinks the concessions should resolve the concerns that prompted British lawmakers to reject the previous Brexit deal three times.

However, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn said no Labour Party legislator can back the new Brexit proposal. Corbyn said in Parliament that the new plan is just a "rehashed version" of previously rejected ones.

He said the prime minister is not acting in good faith and knows the proposal will be rejected, adding the new proposal would gut European Union worker protections and environmental protections and set off a "race to the bottom."

Johnson would likely need some Labour Party backing to win passage of any new Brexit deal, as his government doesn't have a working majority in Parliament.

'U.K.'s proposals fall short'

European Union Leader Donald Tusk said he was "still unconvinced" about the British proposals to unblock the stalled Brexit negotiations.

Tusk had telephone talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and joined him in his skepticism about Johnson's proposals. Tusk said his message to Varadkar was that the EU stands "fully behind Ireland." In sharp contrast, he coined his message to Johnson as "we remain open, but still unconvinced."

For his part, Varadkar said Ireland "may have to live with a no-deal [Brexit] for a period of time" if no compromise is found. He said he wouldn't predict any outcome of the Brexit talks but would prefer to "see a deal where the U.K. leaves in an orderly fashion."

The European Parliament's supervisory Brexit group issued a damning verdict on Johnson's proposals and said they "do not match even remotely" what is needed for a compromise.

After being briefed by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who was given the proposals on Wednesday, the Brexit Steering Group said the proposals were a step back instead of forward toward an overall deal as the Oct. 31 deadline looms ever larger.

The statement from the group said that "the U.K.'s proposals fall short and represent a significant movement away from joint commitments and objectives."

The statement carries weight since the steering group unites experts from all major groups in the European Parliament and the legislature has to approve any Brexit deal before it can become official.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.