Boris Johnson has dismissed a leaked report that claims his government is planning to install “customs clearance zones” near the Irish border after Brexit.
A report by Irish state broadcaster RTE said the UK government wants to create customs posts in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland between five and 10 miles back from the current border.
The idea - viewed as Mr Johnson’s final effort to secure a Brexit deal - was dismissed as a “non-starter” by the Irish government.
The Prime Minister claimed the proposal, thought to be contained in so-called “non-papers” submitted by UK officials to the EU during recent discussions, was “not quite right”.
The prime minister said those were preliminary ideas that had been floated rather than the formal proposals which are expected to be set out later this week after the Conservative Party conference in Manchester finishes on Wednesday.
What is Boris Johnson's Brexit plan?
"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 Mr Johnson, who has been forced to dodge questions this week about his private life, refused to reveal details of his own Brexit plan he will unveil to Brussels in the coming days, saying only: “We do think there’s a good solution.”
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!— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) September 30, 2019
Deputy Irish premier Simon Coveney dismissed the plan for customs posts, tweeting: "Non-Paper = Non-Starter.”
And an Irish government spokesman said a credible alternative to the Irish backstop had yet to be proposed by the UK.
Ireland and the EU are set against the return of a hard border, but Mr Johnson said the “reality” of Brexit means there needs to be customs checks.
What happens next?
The UK is set to leave the EU on October 31 and Mr Johnson says it will happen with or without a deal. A crunch EU summit is scheduled for October 17.
“Clearly this is the moment when the rubber hits the road,” said Mr Johnson on Tuesday.
"This is when the hard yards really are in the course of the negotiations."
The Irish border question has become the main stumbling block to a Brexit deal.
The backstop - a contingency plan which would keep Northern Ireland closely aligned to Brussels' customs and regulatory rules if no other method is found of preventing a hard border - is loathed by Brexiteers and Mr Johnson is determined to remove it from the Withdrawal Agreement that predecessor Theresa May negotiated with the EU.
"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," said Mr Johnson.
Boris Johnson promises “very good offer”
The Prime Minister said this morning: "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.
"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 indicated the government would have a clear idea by the weekend whether or not a deal with the EU would be possible.
"We think it's a good proposal," he told LBC. "Clearly, if there is no way of getting it over the line from their point of view, we will have to live with that."
What has Europe said?
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said: "We have not received any proposals from the United Kingdom that meet all the objectives of the backstop, as we have been reiterating and demanding."
She added: "It's the UK's responsibility to come forward with workable and legally operational solutions that meet all of the objectives of the backstop."
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said of the leaked customs posts proposal: "If Boris Johnson had spent any time listening to businesses and communities in Northern Ireland, he would know that these proposals are utterly unworkable."
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.
Mr Johnson denied that was the case, adding: "In truth, we have not made any such request."
But he did appear to question whether the Benn Act had been drawn up in collaboration with other EU states following claims from Downing Street sources of "collusion with foreign powers".
There is a "legitimate question" to be asked about how the legislation came about, he said.