Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

Boris Johnson says there's 'ample scope' for new Brexit deal

British PM faces frosty reception in European capitals as he tries to reopen negotiations for EU departure

A long-time Eurosceptic, Boris Johnson insists the Irish backstop must be dropped. EPA
A long-time Eurosceptic, Boris Johnson insists the Irish backstop must be dropped. EPA

There is ample scope to renegotiate a Brexit deal but any withdrawal agreement from the EU that divides the UK will be rejected by the government, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.

Standing alongside German chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Johnson insisted that progress could be made rapidly if the controversial Irish border backstop were removed.

Today's talks with Mrs Merkel mark the start of meetings across Europe to try to reopen negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU.

The German leader said the UK would have to wait a "little bit longer" for a deal, as she appeared to ask Britain to come up with alternatives to the backstop.

But Mrs Merkel raised the possibility that a negotiated departure from the EU might still be possible even as the clock is ticking on a deal that would satisfy both sides.

She said a solution for the contentious issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be reached before the Brexit date of October 31.

"We might be able to find it in the next 30 days. Why not?" she said.

Mr Johnson welcomed the "blistering timetable of 30 days" Mrs Merkel suggested, but acknowledged that the ball was in Britain's court to avert an economically devastating no-deal Brexit by proposing a solution to the Irish border issue.

"There are abundant solutions that are proffered, which have already been discussed," he said.

"I don't think, to be fair, they have so far been very actively proposed over the last three years by the British government.

"You rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas, to show how we can address the issue of the Northern Irish border and that is what we want to do."

Mr Johnson had insisted on Monday that the Irish border backstop clause must be scrapped and replaced with "alternative arrangements" to regulate cross-border trade.

Once the formalities of Mr Johnson’s first overseas visit as prime minister are over, his case for renegotiating Britain’s divorce deal with the EU is not likely to receive a warm reception from Mrs Merkel.

EU leaders have roundly rejected his proposal that the Irish backstop be dropped from the EU withdrawal agreement.

The backstop is the insurance policy to keep the Irish border open if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson and his hard-line Brexit allies have been deeply critical of the backstop provision, arguing it would force Britain to remain in the EU Customs union.

His letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, on Monday outlining the UK’s position was met with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

“The letter to the president of the European Council is not a serious offer and Boris Johnson knows it,” said Norbert Roettgen, the head of Germany’s parliamentary affairs committee and a close ally of Mrs Merkel.

She is not expected to deviate from the EU line in talks with Mr Johnson, who the German press says is likely to leave empty-handed.

Government insiders told the Handelsblatt daily that they would listen to the British leader’s views in detail but negotiations on a deal that involved the other 27 EU members would not be possible.

Berlin has been less forthright in its dealings over Brexit negotiations than Paris, where Mr Johnson will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.

The UK prime minister, who replaced Theresa May in Britain’s top job a month ago, has remained upbeat in the face of Europe’s cold response.

Mr Johnson told ITV news that there were “plenty of other creative solutions” to the Irish backstop.

“I think it’s a bit paradoxical that the EU side is talking about us putting up all the barriers," he said.

"We’ve made it clear 1,000 times we don’t want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all.

“By contrast, it is the EU who claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market require them to have such checks – I don’t think that’s true.

"I’m going to go, of course, and see if I can explore those ideas with our friends in Germany and France and at the G7. Let’s see where we get to."

Mr Johnson will travel from Paris to a three-day summit of G7 leaders in Biarritz, France, on Saturday where he hopes to push his Brexit agenda further.

He has said Britain will leave the EU on October 31 no matter what.

With Brussels unresponsive, Mr Johnson has made overtures to US President Donald Trump.

Washington has been publicly enthusiastic about a US-UK free trade deal but Mr Trump’s help is likely to come with a price tag.

Updated: August 22, 2019 01:16 AM

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