British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the plans Tuesday, saying they were aimed at breaking the impasse over the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which becomes an external EU frontier after Brexit.
Johnson said the proposal was the final offer he would make to Brussels. Britain is due to leave the EU at the end of the month.
Speaking to supporters at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester Tuesday, Johnson repeated his pledge to refuse to ask for a Brexit extension.
“We are coming out of the EU on Oct. 31 come what may. Let's get Brexit done. We can, we must, and we will,” Johnson said, amid cheers from party members.
Johnson’s new proposals would eliminate the so-called "Irish backstop" from the withdrawal agreement, which would have kept Britain bound closely to EU rules to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland until an alternative could be agreed upon.
Instead, Britain is proposing that Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, but leave the bloc’s customs union. This would require some customs checks on or close to the border.
Early reaction suggests the plans fall short of European and Irish demands.
“We don't think that this is really the safeguard that Ireland needs,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament Brexit Steering Group.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier echoed those concerns, warning that "a lot of work still needs to be done."
There are also domestic hurdles. Even if Johnson and the EU can strike a deal, it still has to be ratified in Parliament, and Johnson simply doesn’t have a parliamentary majority, says Alan Wager of the UK in a Changing Europe program at King's College London.
“The European Union now is worried that Boris Johnson has created such a divided House of Commons that any deal that Boris Johnson comes back with can't be voted through by (opposition) Labor MPs,” Wagner said.
Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, saw her withdrawal agreement rejected three times. Johnson’s government would likely be reliant on Labor votes, but party leader Jeremy Corbyn signaled his opposition Tuesday.
“It's worse than Theresa May's deal. I can't see it getting the support that (Johnson) thinks it will get,” Corbyn said.
Recent legislation passed by opposition MPs compels the prime minister to ask Brussels for a Brexit extension if he can’t strike a deal. Johnson is finding himself increasingly boxed in, says Wager.
“So, the options open to Boris Johnson are essentially to resign as prime minister, or to go and request that extension, but to make it very clear that he's being dragged there and he doesn't want to be there. Maybe try and stage a walkout of the (European) Council halfway through, or so on. What he really wants to make clear to those Brexit voters, those Brexit supporters, is that he is breaking his promise but he really doesn't want to.”
With an election likely imminent, analysts say the political maneuvering is intended not just for Europe but also for the British electorate back home.