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Britain's Johnson sets out defence of new Brexit plan

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking about the government's proposed Brexit deal in the House of Commons in central London on October 3, 2019.

[LONDON] Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is winning the battle for Conservative MPs’ support as he outlines his new Brexit proposals in Parliament.

Tories on both sides of the Brexit debate gave their backing to the prime minister. If the deal can get through the UK’s ruling Conservative party, there is a chance it could pass a vote in Parliament. But that does not mean it will be acceptable to the EU.

Mr Johnson also met his senior ministers on Thursday before setting out on a delicate mission to convince sceptical EU leaders to back his new Brexit plan.

He is racing against time and facing headwinds across European capitals as he tries to rally support for a new approach to settling the three-and-a-half-year crisis.

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Failure to get both the EU and his own fractured parliament to back his plan will result in either a crash exit for Britain or a third Brexit delay this year.

If he succeeds, Mr Johnson could embark on an even longer and more complex stage of the process, working to negotiate a new trade agreement with the EU.

UK Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said all sides had to start real talks on Mr Johnson's outline by the weekend to have any chance to get a deal in time for an October 17-18 EU leaders' summit in Brussels.

"We need to move forward at pace, intensively," he told BBC radio.

"The response from the (EU) Commission is that they recognise that this was a serious proposal and I think all sides want to see a deal.

"All sides recognise that the alternative, no-deal, is disruptive."

Mr Johnson's complicated proposals for preserving a free-flowing border across the island of Ireland after Brexit were met with a guarded reception in Brussels and Dublin.

"There is progress, but to be frank a lot of work still needs to be done," the EU's lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker used a call with Mr Johnson to share concerns about what he said were "problematic points".

In Dublin, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the documents "do not fully meet the agreed objectives" for keeping Ireland's border with British province Northern Ireland invisible.

Mr Johnson's strategy tackles the Irish border issue by taking Northern Ireland out of the EU customs union but keeping it aligned with Ireland's rules and regulations for goods.

This would effectively create two temporary economic borders - including one in the Irish Sea between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

One of the most contentious points of the deal gives a new Northern Irish assembly the right to end its alignment with Ireland by 2025.

A time-limited border solution has been a deal-breaker for Brussels in the past.

EU leaders are keen to preserve the economic bloc's territorial integrity and fear counterfeit goods and other contraband flowing in unchecked.

But Mr Johnson needed to insert the provision to secure the backing of his allies from Northern Ireland's small but influential Democratic Unionist Party.

DUP leader Arlene Foster on Wednesday called Mr Johnson's proposals a basis for future talks.