Boris Johnson denies claims the UK proposing 'customs clearance sites' on both sides of border

Infrastructure at the border to carry out customs checks would "damage" border communities and the economy, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has claimed. Picture byMargaret McLaughlin.
David Hughes, PA Political Editor

Boris Johnson has urged the European Union to work with him on efforts to reach a Brexit deal when he presents formal proposals to break the deadlock within days.

The Prime Minister said it is now the moment when the "rubber hits the road" as the clock ticks down to the October 31 scheduled date for the UK's exit from the bloc.

Mr Johnson called for Brussels, Dublin and Berlin to work with him on the "good solution" the UK will be formally setting out.

His comments came after Dublin rejected proposals for customs posts along both sides of the Irish border to replace the backstop.

Irish state broadcaster RTE reported that the suggestion sent to the EU by the UK would lead to the posts being built between five and 10 miles back from the current border.

Deputy Irish premier Simon Coveney poured cold water on the plans, saying Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland "deserve better".

But Mr Johnson said those were preliminary ideas that had been floated and the formal proposals would be set out very shortly - widely expected to be later this week, after the Tory conference finishes on Wednesday.

"They are not talking about the proposals we are going to be tabling, they are talking about stuff that went in previously," he told the BBC.

"But clearly this is the moment when the rubber hits the road.

"This is when the hard yards really are in the course of the negotiations.

"The difficulty really is going to be around the customs union and to what extent Northern Ireland can be retained within EU bodies at all.

"We're going to make a very good offer, we are going to be tabling it very soon, but there is a difficulty if you try to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union because one of the basic things about being a country is you have a single customs perimeter and a single customs union."

In an indication of why the UK has delayed tabling its formal proposals, Mr Johnson said there was a risk that critics could "needlessly distort" what was being put forward.

"We do think think there's a good solution. I very much hope that our European and EU friends in Brussels, in Dublin, in Germany as well, will want to take it forward," he said.

The idea for the customs posts was contained in the so-called "non-papers" submitted by UK officials during recent technical discussions.

Mr Coveney tweeted: "Non-Paper = Non-Starter. Time the EU had a serious proposal from the UK Govt if a £Brexit deal is to be achievable in October. NI and IRE deserves better!"

An Irish Government spokesman said a credible alternative to the backstop had yet to be proposed by the UK.

"The EU taskforce has indicated that any non-papers it has received from the UK to date fall well short of the agreed aims and objectives of the backstop," he said.

"The UK's non-papers were given to the taskforce on the strict understanding they would not be shared with anyone.

"The taskforce has said it has received no credible proposals from the British.

"Ireland's priorities are protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border and protecting the all-island economy, and protecting the EU single market and its benefits for Irish businesses and consumers.

"We have yet to see any credible alternatives to the backstop."

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "If Boris Johnson had spent any time listening to businesses and communities in Northern Ireland, he would know that these proposals are utterly unworkable."

He added: "If accurate, these proposals represent yet another failure of the Government's negotiating strategy.

"The Prime Minister should admit he has no credible plan for Brexit and that the only way to resolve this issue is to go back to the people with a public vote."

Meanwhile, The Times reported that Mr Johnson's plan to get around the Benn Act - the law aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit without MPs' approval - would be to ask EU leaders to rule out any extension to the October 31 deadline.

He would then seek to present MPs in Parliament with a straight choice of agreeing the revised deal or leaving without an agreement on Halloween.

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