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Boris Johnson news: PM faces new grilling on groping claim, as talks on toppling him stall and senior MP expelled from Tory conference

See how we covered the day's events

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
,Adam Forrest,Vincent Wood
Tuesday 01 October 2019 18:13 BST
Boris Johnson comments on groping allegations: 'I've said what I've said about that. They are not true'

Boris Johnson has admitted he cannot remember the lunch at which he is alleged to have groped a female journalist – despite repeatedly denying the incident took place.

It comes as opposition talks to oust the PM if he tries to force through a no-deal Brexit have been plunged into fresh turmoil amid splits over who should lead a temporary government.

And Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has been sent home from the party's annual conference in Manchester after what a Tory spokesperson described as a "totally unacceptable" clash with security staff.

Late in the evening details emerged of Mr Johnson's planned offer to Brussels. In a speech tomorrow he is to say that the EU must "engage" with his proposals or see the UK walk away without a deal.

The plans, reportedly including the offer of a four-year period inside the EU's regulatory framework for Northern Ireland following the end of the transition period in 2021, represent a "reasonable compromise" on his part, the PM is to say.

Mr Johnson's ultimatum will be delivered despite the passing of the Benn Act, which is designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

His opponents accused him of being determined to “force an undemocratic and destructive vision of Brexit on the country”.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent's live coverage of events at Westminster and Manchester, where the Conservative party conference continues.

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 08:16

Boris Johnson said the negotiations were now entering a crucial phase “when the rubber hits the road”.

He claimed criticism of the customs proposals related to ideas that had previously been floated, rather than the formal text the government will present in the next few days.

“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’s Dan Walker.

“But clearly this is the moment when the rubber hits the road. This is when the hard yards really are in the course of the negotiations.

“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.

“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.”

Asked about the claim he squeezed the thigh of a journalist while editor of The Spectator, he said: “It’s very sad that someone should make such allegations – they’re not true.”

Confronted with the importance of the allegation, Johnson said: “I don’t want in any way to minimise the importance of the kind of stuff you are talking about.

“Yes, I get it. Yes, of course this kind of thing, if true, would be very important. As it happens, it’s not true.”

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 08:18

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 08:18

The idea for “customs clearance zones” - reported this morning as a part of Boris Johnson’s final Brexit proposal - was contained in the so-called “non-papers” submitted by UK officials during recent technical discussions, Irish officials have claimed.

Deputy Irish premier Simon Coveney tweeted: “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!”

An Irish government spokesman said a credible alternative to the backstop had yet to be proposed by the UK. “The EU taskforce has indicated that any non-papers it has received from the UK to date fall well short of the agreed aims and objectives of the backstop,” he said.

“The UK’s non-papers were given to the taskforce on the strict understanding they would not be shared with anyone. The taskforce has said it has received no credible proposals from the British.

“Ireland's priorities are protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border and protecting the all-island economy, and protecting the EU single market and its benefits for Irish businesses and consumers.

“We have yet to see any credible alternatives to the backstop.”

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 08:39

Boris Johnson has given a revealing interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

Asked whether the final Brexit plan would mean a string of customs checkpoints not on the Irish border but near the border, Johnson said. “That’s not what we’re proposing at all … But if you’ll forgive me I would like to veil our proposals in decent obscurity.”

Johnson also claimed it costs the UK £1bn a month to stay in the EU.

When challenged by Nick Robinson on the figure – and the notorious Leave campaign bus which included the discredited £350m a week claim – he responded:

“Since you want to drag that in, were we to be obliged to stay in the EU we would need a bigger bus because the figure would go up – I think it would be rising to £400m [a week] gross.”

The prime minister also tried to discredit the Benn Act. “It is not subjected to normal parliamentary scrutiny.”

He denied having a “woman problem” after several days of headlines about groping allegations and his ties to Jennifer Arcuri. “I’ve always been a big champion of women at the top of every organisation I’ve run,” claiming he ran a “feminocracy” at City Hall.

“It is not true,” he said again on the accusation he squeezed a journalist’s thigh.

Asked whether his character had changed during his 10 weeks of intransigence at No 10, and whether he would change course, Johnson said: “Forgive me if I seem stubborn.

“All those who wish to see the return, as it were, of the old generous-hearted, loving, caring, mayor of London – that person has not gone away. I am a one nation Tory. But we are in a position where the only way we can take this country forward and unite our country again is to get Brexit done.”

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 08:51

Here’s our political editor with more on Boris Johnson’s final Brexit proposal – set to be submitted within days.

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 09:07
Adam Forrest1 October 2019 09:20

Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith has also denied that the government is proposing customs centres at locations away from the border.

“I don’t know where these papers have come from that were reported on yesterday, I’ve not seen them, I don't know who’s written them, but I’m clear that we can’t have customs facilities in the places mentioned in the reports,” he said.

“And I’m clear that the prime minister is fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement.”

Smith told BBC Radio Ulster: “Five or 10 miles from the border is still an issue and I am clear on that, and the government is clear that the Good Friday Agreement needs to be respected.”

Boris Johnson, who also urged cautioned against reading too much into reports of “customs clearance zones”, has had yet more to say on radio this morning.

The prime minister has just told LBC the government would have a clear idea by the weekend whether a deal with the EU would be possible.

“What we will be doing is giving our friends a proposal, we think it’s a good proposal.

“Clearly, if there is no way of getting it over the line from their point of view, we will have to live with that.”

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 09:26

Home secretary Priti Patel is expected to tell criminals “we are coming after you” during her conference speech today – the latest sign of the Tories seeking to burnish their credentials as the party of law and order ahead of an expected election.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland will confirm he will end the system which sees some of the most serious offenders released after serving just half their sentence.

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 09:34

Steve Baker MP, leader of the European Research Group (ERG) – a band of staunch pro-Brexit Tory MPs – defended the government proposal, and said “there are going to be some additional checks, yes”.

He argued checks were “inescapable” and claimed the Irish border could be “world-class”.

Baker said: “I’m absolutely confident this can be world-class border with a real minimisation of inconvenience to businesses and individuals.”

The former Brexit minister also told the BBC: “We are leaving … and that means there is going to be a change to the status quo.

“Remember there are already some checks in some places [on the Irish land border],” he also told the BBC.

“There are checks on duty on the border, there are sometimes checks on passports.”

Baker earlier told the Today programme he is “highly confident” fellow ERG members would vote for the government’s Brexit deal – if agreed by the EU.

Adam Forrest1 October 2019 09:44

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