AFTER months of inertia, Boris Johnson finally revealed his Brexit plan in the unchallenging environment of the Conservative conference.
This allowed him to keep his track record of ducking scrutiny in Parliament over his proposals for a Brexit deal with the EU and revealing whether he will be breaking the law again.
Focusing on Brexit in his conference speech did also allow the Prime Minister to escape making any promises about Yorkshire and the North.
Beyond a few warm words, there were no significant policy proposals to properly fund our public services after years of austerity, invest in our railways or plug the funding gap to deliver the flood defences that Leeds badly needs.
However, getting back to Brexit and Johnson’s proposals to end the deadlock that he and his Government have created, everyone has now had some time to examine his blueprint and see whether it does offer a way forward over what happens regarding the key issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Essentially, the PM’s Brexit plan would keep Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods but see it leave the customs union. Johnson said his proposals remove the backstop – negotiated by Theresa May to avoid any physical border.
Under his plan, Northern Ireland would remain in the EU’s single market and follow its rules for goods, livestock and food but stay part of the UK’s customs regime. Customs checks on traded goods between the EU and UK would be decentralised with physical checks away from the actual border.
Critically, the Stormont Assembly – which has not sat for three years – would get a veto on the arrangement every four years, creating huge uncertainty for the Republic of Ireland.
Even Boris Johnson with his frequent pleas for everyone to look on the bright side cannot pretend the reaction to his Brexit plan has been positive.
Wary that Johnson will try to lay the blame on them for blocking his plan, the EU have tempered their pessimism about his blueprint. European Council president Donald Tusk said he was open but “still unconvinced”. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar went further and warned the plan “falls short in a number of ways”.
With the clock ticking to the October 31 deadline by which time Johnson insists that we will leave the EU, we are no still closer to a workable solution.
Johnson has effectively dumped his Brexit problem on the island of Ireland and has already triggered angry words between Dublin and the Democrat Unionist Party. The Irish government is understandably unhappy at plans to give the DUP a veto over whether the Republic remains aligned with EU rules.
All this is further evidence of the Prime Minister’s reckless approach to the Government’s Brexit negotiations. There is a risk that his failures to sort out the border issue could jeopardise all the hard work that led to the Good Friday Agreement and put peace at risk.
We have already seen the terrible impact of his efforts to paint anyone who does not share his view as supporters of what he terms a “surrender Bill”. His unthinking sloganeering has led to my fellow Yorkshire MP Paula Sherriff receiving death threats and a torrent of abuse.
The simple question we all have to ask ourselves about Johnson’s Brexit proposals is do they add up to a genuine, credible and workable plan that will secure the best outcome for Yorkshire and the rest of the country?
The test of any deal must be whether it is good for jobs and investment, whether it can maintain peace in Northern Ireland, whether it will protect workers’ rights and safeguard our food and environmental standards. Johnson’s plan clearly does not meet that test.
The Government says it hopes to reach a final agreement at the forthcoming EU summit on October 17. But that looks unlikely and Johnson knows it.
Under the Benn Act, put forward by Hilary Benn, the Government must ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline if it fails to either pass a deal at Westminster or get MPs to back a no-deal by October 19.
Johnson keeps saying that he will not ask for an extension – as he would be required to by law. However, as we know from his unlawful suspension of Parliament, breaking the law does not appear to trouble this Prime Minister. The only thing Johnson wants from his Brexit plan is to find a solution that lets him cling on in Downing Street.
As he prepares for the next general election, Johnson will continue to parrot the line fed to him by advisers in Number 10 that Hilary Benn’s proposal to prevent a catastrophic no-deal Brexit is a surrender Bill.
For a man who likes to show how clever he is, with his casual references to Ancient Greece at every opportunity, Johnson could not be more wrong.
Standing up for British interests, protecting workers’ rights, the environment and fighting for jobs and a strong economy is the antithesis of surrender.
Putting the brakes on Johnson speeding us towards a devastating no-deal Brexit is about safeguarding the UK. It is time Johnson woke up and realised no one is buying his plan.
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West. She chairs Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.