LONDON — The British prime minister claimed Friday that he has made “a good deal of progress” in his pursuit of a Brexit deal with the EU.
Speaking in Rotherham, south Yorkshire — after a speech that was interrupted by a heckler demanding to know why he was not with MPs in Westminster sorting out the Brexit “mess” — Boris Johnson said he felt “cautiously optimistic” over the prospects of getting a deal.
“We are working incredibly hard to get a deal. There is the rough shape of the deal to be done,” he said. “As some of you may have seen, I myself have been to talk to various other EU leaders particularly in Germany, in France and in Ireland, where we made a good deal of progress.”
His remarks come a day after the U.K. presented a long-awaited plan to EU negotiators on how to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, but diplomats briefed on the Brexit talks say the proposals fall short of the reassurance that Dublin and Brussels need.
Johnson is set to travel to Luxembourg on Monday for Brexit talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Afterwards, he will meet with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel.
“We will talk about the ideas that we’ve been working on and we will see where we get,” Johnson said.
Minutes earlier Johnson was heckled over his decision to prorogue parliament as he delivered a speech on giving extra powers to local leaders in the North of England.
The heckler, who was removed by security guards, shouted: “Like our MPs? Maybe get back to Parliament. Yeah? Why are you not with them in Parliament sorting out the mess that you have created? Why don’t you sort it out, Boris?”
Johnson replied he was “very happy to get back to parliament very soon,” adding that “what we want to see in this region is towns and communities able to represent that gentlemen and sort out his needs.”
He insisted that there would be “ample time” for parliament to consider the Brexit deal he hopes to strike with the EU in the coming weeks, and accused opposition parties of trying to frustrate Brexit. “The gentleman who left prematurely — not necessarily under his own steam — that is the answer to his question,” said Johnson.
With his speech, the prime minister sought to focus voters’ attention on his domestic agenda, pledging to spend more public money on education and improving rail connections in the North of England.
“I’m certainly not going to be deterred by anybody from our goal of coming out of the EU on October 31, which I believe many people want us to do … But also I won’t be deterred from getting on with our domestic agenda,” Johnson said.
Earlier in the morning, Johnson visited Doncaster, where he was challenged by a woman who accused him of telling a “fairy tale” by promising more public spending after Brexit.
“People have died because of austerity,” she said. “And then you’ve got the cheek to come here and tell us austerity is over and it’s all good now, we’re going to leave the EU and everything is going to be great. It’s just a fairy tale,” she said.