Monday 23 September 2019

'Blistering': Angela Merkel gives Boris Johnson 30 days to come up with alternative to Brexit backstop


German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are seen ahead of their news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Patrick Daly

German chancellor Angela Merkel has told UK prime minister Boris Johnson he has 30 days to come up with an alternative solution to replace the backstop.

Mr Johnson called her timetable "blistering", but said he was "more than happy" with her proposal to speed-up the talks.

The Conservative Party leader arrived in Berlin on Wednesday to kick-start talks to find an alternative to the Irish backstop - a contingency measure negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May to get an exit deal over the line.

Mr Johnson, in a letter this week to European Council President Donald Tusk, said Britain would leave without a deal unless the "anti-democratic" backstop - voted down three times by MPs in Parliament - was removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks past a guard of honour with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin as he arrives ahead of talks to try to break the Brexit deadlock. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks past a guard of honour with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin as he arrives ahead of talks to try to break the Brexit deadlock. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The backstop was a stop-gap measure agreed by Mrs May in an attempt to prevent a hard border being reinstalled in Northern Ireland, a move that would have tied the UK to European Union rules until a solution was found.

Mrs Merkel, in a statement in the Chancellery, said the backstop had always been a "fallback position" and would only come into effect if no other solution could be agreed that would protect the "integrity of the single market".

In an attempt to have a backstop solution in place before the October 31 Brexit deadline, the German leader said she wanted a new arrangement agreed within 30 days.

She said: "If one is able to solve this conundrum, if one finds this solution, we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come.

"Then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this."

Mr Johnson said he was "more than happy" with the timetable proposed by his German counterpart.

"I must say I am very glad listening to you tonight Angela to hear that at least the conversations that matter can now properly begin," he said.

"You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days - if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that."

A Downing Street source said the Government was happy with the tone of Mrs Merkel's exchange.

The Government was not briefed beforehand that Mrs Merkel would apply the "pressure" of a 30-day deadline, but Mr Johnson's team is hopeful it is an indication that European leaders are preparing to renegotiate - an outcome the EU has previously ruled out.

Mr Johnson told Mrs Merkel that the backstop would have to go as part of further discussions - or else Britain was prepared to leave without a deal.

He said the backstop would need to be removed "whole and entire" before a deal could be reached.

But Mr Johnson, on his first trip to Germany as PM, said he was optimistic an agreement could be struck.

"What in my experience happens is that people find a way through and I think that if we approach this with sufficient patience and optimism, as I say, we can get this done and it is in the final furlong generally when the horses change places and the winning deal appears," he told the press.

Mr Johnson and Mrs Merkel are set to hold talks over dinner, with the Chancellor telling reporters "we need to get to work now".

The Conservative Party leader is due to travel to France tomorrow to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to hold similar discussions

Read more here: Phil Hogan launches scathing attack on Boris Johnson: 'Unelected PM... gambling with the peace process'

Meanwhile, speaking in Paris, Mr Macron said a no-deal Brexit would be of Britain's own making and not the European Union's, adding that any trade deal London cut with Washington would not mitigate the cost of crashing out of the bloc.

The French leader said the demands made by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a renegotiation of the divorce deal, including the removal of the Irish backstop, were not workable as they currently stood.

"Can (the cost of a hard Brexit) be offset by the United States of America? No. And even if it were a strategic choice it would be at the cost of an historic vassalisation of Britain."

"I don't think this is what Boris Johnson wants. I don't think it is what the British people want."

Read more here: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has once again called for alternatives to the backstop - but what form could these take?

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