PM to reveal ‘final’ offer to EU in bid to get Brexit deal

Boris Johnson is set to reveal his “final” offer for what Downing Street says is a “fair and reasonable compromise” to clinch a Brexit deal.

He is expected to reveal details during his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester – his first as prime minister.

Bringing the curtain down on the party’s annual gathering, Mr Johnson will say that “we can, we must and we will” get Brexit done – because voters feel they are being “taken for fools” by Westminster.

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He is also expected to reiterate his commitment to the current deadline of 31 October, despite opposition parties passing legislation designed to avoid him taking Britain out of the EU without a deal on that date.

The PM will say: “Voters are desperate for us to focus on their other priorities. What people want, what Leavers want, what Remainers want, what the whole world wants is to move on.

“That is why we are coming out of the EU on October 31.

“Let’s get Brexit done – we can, we must and we will.”

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British officials are understood to have told their counterparts in Brussels that the legal texts that will be presented to them on Wednesday are a “final offer” – and unless the bloc is willing to engage with the proposals there will be no further talks until after Brexit.

A senior Number 10 official said: “The government is either going to be negotiating a new deal or working on no deal – nobody will work on delay.

“We will keep fighting to respect the biggest democratic vote in British history.”

And in a message to MPs hoping to stop Mr Johnson leaving without a deal later this month, the source said: “The EU is obliged by EU law only to negotiate with member state governments, they cannot negotiate with parliament, and this government will not negotiate a delay.”

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The Conservatives have unveiled a raft of policies during the four-day conference – including plans to increase the National Living Wage and a series of measures to tackle crime – but there have also been headlines around a number of allegations against the PM.

Mr Johnson has denied squeezing the thigh of a journalist during a lunch 20 years ago, as well as stating that he has “no interest to declare” over his links with a former model.

Quizzed about the latter story by Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby on the eve of his big speech, the PM refused three times to deny outright that he had an affair with Jennifer Arcuri, a US businesswoman being investigated for receiving public funds.

The specifics of what exactly will be in Mr Johnson’s “final” offer to the EU are unclear at this stage, so his speech will be closely watched in European capitals.

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On Tuesday he denied a leaked plan to break the Brexit deadlock rubbished by Dublin was the “actual” version that he will propose to the EU.

The PM claimed the government “don’t want” to set up new customs check posts 5-10 miles away from the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The contentious idea came from discussion papers submitted to Brussels negotiators, which were leaked to the Irish broadcaster RTE.

Mr Johnson will be missing Prime Minister’s Questions to deliver his speech, after MPs voted against a short parliamentary break to coincide with the Tory conference.

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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will deputise for the PM, with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott standing in for Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn has so far refused to back Mr Johnson’s demand for a general election, saying he wants a no-deal Brexit on 31 October taken off the table first.

Ahead of that looming campaign, the PM will turn his fire on the Labour leader.

He will say: “Corbyn wants to turn the whole of 2020 – which should be a great year for this country – into the chaos and cacophony of two more referendums.

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“A second referendum on Scottish independence, even though the people of Scotland were promised that the 2014 vote would be a once-in-a-generation vote, and a second referendum on the EU, even though we were promised that the 2016 vote would be a once-in-a-generation vote.

“Can you imagine another three years of this?

“That is the Corbyn agenda – stay in the EU beyond October 31, paying a billion pounds a month for the privilege, followed by years of uncertainty for business and everyone else.

“My friends, I am afraid that after three-and-a-half years people are beginning to feel that they are being taken for fools.

“They are beginning to suspect that there are forces in this country that simply don’t want Brexit delivered at all.

“And if they turn out to be right in that suspicion then I believe there will be grave consequences for trust in democracy.

“Let’s get Brexit done on October 31 so in 2020 our country can move on.”

But the chances of “getting Brexit done” on the basis of what the prime minister plans to propose to the EU seems remote.

A version of the proposals, leaked to the Daily Telegraph essentially boils down to a time-limited version of the Irish backstop in all but name, followed by two sets of customs and regulatory checks, one in Ireland (north and south) another down the Irish Sea.

After a time-limited period, it would be up to the parties of Northern Ireland to decide whether they wanted to align their rules with Great Britain or the EU. But in practice (because of the complicated way the Northern Ireland executive works) that would give the DUP the effective veto on what NI does, which will go down badly with the nationalist community.

Crucially, the proposals mark a retreat from the aims and assurances the British government has given throughout the Brexit process: that there would be no border infrastructure or checks, that the border would remain invisible and that the all island economy would remain protected.

The Irish Europe minister has already rejected the proposals. An EU source told Sky News they were “an act of bad faith”, that Downing St knows they will be rejected and is seeking only to manage the blame game around a no-deal Brexit.

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