British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has submitted the U.K.’s “final offer” for a Brexit deal to the European Union on Wednesday. “We can, we must and we will” leave the bloc before the Oct. 31 deadline, he insisted.
The proposal, which the embattled leader described as a "fair and reasonable compromise,” was delivered after Johnson closed his Conservative Party's annual conference with a speech in Manchester.
Accusing his political opponents of seeking endless delays, Johnson told Conservatives that Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 so that "in 2020, our country can move on,” the Associated Press reported.
Johnson also said people who voted for Brexit "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," he said in the nationally televised speech. "And if they turn out to be right in that suspicion, then I believe there will be grave consequences for trust in our democracy."
Britain narrowly voted in 2016 to leave the EU but remains deeply divided over the departure terms.
A point of contention has been whether the U.K. can form a workable plan to avoid checks on goods or people crossing the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland after Brexit. But Johnson insisted Wednesday that "under no circumstances" would there be customs checks at the border in Northern Ireland under the proposed deal.
Johnson said late Tuesday that convincing the EU to strike a deal would not be "a walk in the park," but he thought the agreement could be reached by the time the bloc's leaders meet for a key summit in Brussels on Oct. 17-18.
"We have made huge progress and I hope very much that in the course of the next few days we are going to get there," he told a reception at the Conservative conference.
Michel Barnier, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, said Johnson's new proposals constitute “progress”, but that the gap between both sides remains daunting and “to be frank lots of work still needs to be done.”
Barnier said “we will continue to work, to work to reach a deal. The ‘no-deal’ will never be the choice of the EU, never.”
Johnson has said the U.K. can handle any bumps that come from tumbling out of the bloc without a deal, which would mean the instant imposition of customs checks and other barriers between Britain and the EU, its biggest trading partner.
But the U.K. government and businesses both say the disruptions would be substantial, with the flow of goods coming into Britain through the port of Dover cut in half.
Many lawmakers want to prevent a no-deal exit, and have passed a law that compels the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can't get an agreement with the EU by Oct. 19. Johnson says he won't do that — though he also insists he will obey the law.
Whether Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31 or not, Johnson is likely to face the verdict of voters in an election before the end of the year.
"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," he'll say.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.