In his first Tory conference speech as prime minister, Johnson repeatedly stressed his commitment to “get Brexit done” and insisted the UK would leave the EU on October 31, despite parliament passing laws to block no deal.
He held out an olive branch to his opponents, saying he did not doubt their “patriotism” and stressing he wanted to deliver Brexit for those who voted remain but were “first and foremost democrats” who “accept the result of the referendum”.
The PM confirmed reports that he wants to introduce customs checks on Ireland as part of his efforts to replace the Irish backstop, an insurance policy to maintain an invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Critics have already seized on a leak of the proposals, dubbed by the Telegraph “two borders for four years”, as evidence Johnson is not serious about striking a new agreement with the EU and appears to want a no-deal Brexit.
But addressing supporters in Manchester, Johnson stressed the plans to leave Northern Ireland in a close relationship with Europe until 2025 were “constructive and reasonable” and “provide a compromise for both sides”, while allowing the UK to strike free-trade deals around the world.
He insisted that despite proposed new customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and a regulatory border between the province and the UK mainland, there would be no checks “at or near the border”.
The plans will ensure the Good Friday peace agreement would be respected, and that the Northern Ireland’s political parties have a say in how the province’s relationship with the EU evolves over time, he said.
“Yes this is a compromise by the UK,” Johnson said.
“And I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn.
“Because if we fail to get an agreement because of what is essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks, when that technology is improving the whole time, then let us be in no doubt that the alternative is no deal.
“That is not an outcome we want. It is not an outcome we seek at all.
“But let me tell you this, conference, it is an outcome for which we are ready.”
Johnson will speak about the proposals in a telephone call with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker on the plans on Wednesday afternoon.
Technical talks with the PM’s Europe adviser David Frost and the UK team will also take place on Wednesday afternoon in Brussels, commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva also said.
“Once we receive the text, we will look at it objectively,” she said.
“We want to enter into constructive discussions, so I will certainly not pre-empt any reaction here before even having received the text.”
In a speech light on policy detail, Johnson attempted to burnish his “one nation” Tory credentials following weeks of criticism for his hardline approach to Brexit, polarising language and past relationships with women.
He referred to the Benn Act to block no deal as the “surrender bill” only once, and said he did not “for one moment doubt the patriotism of people on all sides of this Brexit argument”.
“Let’s get Brexit done on October 31, because we must get on and deliver on all the priorities of the people to answer the cry of those 17.4 million who voted for Brexit,” he said.
“Because it is only by delivering Brexit that we can address that feeling in so many parts of the country that they were being left behind, ignored and that their towns were not only suffering from a lack of love and investment but their views had somehow become unfashionable or unmentionable.
“And let’s get Brexit done for those millions who may have voted Remain but are first and foremost democrats and accept the result of the referendum.”
Turning to domestic issues, Jonnson said he wanted to lead a “sensible, moderate, one-nation but tax-cutting Tory government” that wholeheartedly backs capitalism, contrasting himself with the “anti-Semitic Marxists” of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
Repeating his call for a general election and said Corbyn had been “gagged and prevented by his colleagues” from backing a snap poll.
“In this age of creative litigation, I am surprised that no one has yet sued him for breach of contract,” Johnson said.
But his speech contained nothing in the way of new initiatives, instead highlighting already announced plans to pump money into the NHS, infrastructure, police and education, among other policies.