MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a final Brexit offer to the European Union on Wednesday and said that unless the bloc compromised, Britain would leave without a deal at the end of this month.
In what supporters cast as a moment of truth after more than three years of crisis, Johnson stuck to his insistence that Britain must leave the EU on time by Oct 31.
With the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline moving closer, Johnson’s aides cast the proposals as London’s final gambit to try to break the deadlock and find a path to a smooth departure from the EU.
“We are coming out of the EU on October 31, come what may,” Johnson told party members, after expressing “love” for Europe.
“We are tabling what I believe are constructive and reasonable proposals which provide a compromise for both sides,” Johnson said. “I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn.”
He added: “Let us be in no doubt that the alternative is no deal.”
In a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Johnson said he wanted a new deal but that it had to be negotiated by the Oct. 17-18 summit. He enclosed a seven-page explanatory note about the “fair and reasonable proposals”.
To solve the most contentious issue – the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland – Johnson proposed creating an all-island regulatory zone in Ireland to cover all goods.
He committed to avoid border checks or physical infrastructure in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock.
Raoul Ruparel, former Europe adviser to Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, said the offer appeared unlikely to win over the EU.
“I cannot see the EU and Ireland agreeing to these proposals, they may not even see them as a basis for negotiations,” he said.
John McDonnell, finance policy chief for the opposition Labour Party, described Johnson’s proposals as “a cynical attempt to force through a no-deal Brexit”.
The proposals come after weeks that have seen Johnson face a series of defeats over Brexit. He tried to suspend parliament, only for the supreme court to call the move illegal.
A mix of defections and expulsions from his Conservatives cost him his parliamentary majority, and lawmakers ignored his objections to pass a bill ordering him to seek a delay to Brexit if he fails to agree a deal by Oct 19. He insists Britain can leave without a deal despite that law, though he has repeatedly refused to explain how he can get around it.
Britain said Johnson’s new proposals would ensure the integrity of the European Union’s single market and would be in keeping with the 1998 Good Friday peace deal that ended 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland would accept EU rules as part of a common regulatory zone, though this would be dependent on the consent of its regional government.
Many diplomats believe the United Kingdom is heading either towards a no-deal exit or another delay, as the British proposals are not enough to get an agreement by Oct. 31. Johnson said further delay was “pointless and expensive”.
Deutsche Bank said it saw a 50 percent chance of a no-deal Brexit by the end of the year. This would spook financial markets, send shockwaves through the global economy and divide the West. It could also bring chaos to British ports and disrupt supply lines in goods from food products to car parts.
A senior British official said: “The government is either going to be negotiating a new deal or working on no deal – nobody will work on delay.”
Ireland, whose 500 km (300 mile) land border with the United Kingdom will become the frontier of the EU’s single market and customs union, is crucial to any Brexit solution.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, supporters of British rule of the province who prop up Johnson’s government, welcomed his proposals, saying they ensured that Northern Ireland would be out of the customs union and single market.
With the EU already pouring cold water on some of the reports of his proposal, the likelihood of a no deal appears to be rising – something Johnson’s opponents say they believe is the prime minister’s true aim.
Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Elizabeth Piper and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff