Monday 23 September 2019

Boris Johnson coming to Dublin in September - and tells EU backstop is 'anti-democratic' and 'unviable'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro (Peter Nicholls/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro (Peter Nicholls/PA)
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke for almost an hour this evening - but failed to make any progress on Brexit.

Mr Johnson is to meet Mr Varadkar in Dublin in early September but he told the Taoiseach this evening that the backstop would need to be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement which, he said, would not get through the House of Commons in its current form.

Mr Varadkar reiterated the position of the EU that the Brexit deal cannot be reopened and re-emphasised the importance of it containing a legally operable backstop, which is the guarantee of no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event the UK cannot agree a future trade deal with the EU.

Read more here: Boris Johnson: UK will end freedom of movement after Brexit and introduce 'Australia-style' immigration system

The Taoiseach and the Prime Minister spoke by phone this evening in the aftermath of this morning’s bomb explosion in Fermanagh near the Irish border. While no one was injured in the incident the PSNI believe it was a "clear and deliberate attempt” by dissidents to murder police officers. Both leaders condemned the bombing and urged anyone with relevant information to contact the police.

Read more here: Hard border, severe disruption to Northern Ireland's economy and jobs losses likely in no-deal Brexit: leaked UK government report

Leo Varadkar. Picture: Damien Eagers
Leo Varadkar. Picture: Damien Eagers

Mr Johnson also told the Taoiseach that the UK decision to end free movement from the EU after Brexit would not impact on Irish citizens due to the Common Travel Area, which pre-dates the EU.

An Irish government source said the tone of the call was “business like but friendly”. The source said Mr Varadkar had raised the Common Travel Area issue in the context of earlier comments by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel who announced plans to end freedom of movement for EU citizens.

While both leaders restated their positions, agreed that their teams would remain in contact and meet in Ireland in early September, it appears there was little progress in breaking the Brexit impasse.

A statement from the Irish government said: “They shared perspectives on the Withdrawal Agreement. The Prime Minister indicated that the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form will not get through the House of Commons, that the backstop would need to be removed, and that an alternative solution is required.

“The Taoiseach reiterated the EU27 position that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, and emphasised the importance of the legally operable guarantee to ensure no hard border and continued free trade on the island of Ireland.

Read more here: Eoghan Harris: 'Bigging up the backstop poisons our once decent pluralism'

“The Prime Minister made clear that the Common Travel Area, which long predates the UK and Ireland joining the EU, would not be affected by the ending of freedom of movement after Brexit.

“The two leaders reiterated their desire to see the Northern Ireland political institutions reinstated urgently, and agreed to work closely to this end. They condemned this morning’s bombing in Fermanagh and urged anyone with relevant information to contact the PSNI.

“They agreed that their teams would maintain close contact over the coming weeks, while recognising that negotiations take place between the UK and the EU27 Task Force. They also agreed to meet in Dublin in early September.”

Meanwhile Mr Johnson told the European Union that the Irish backstop risks weakening the “delicate balance” of the Good Friday Agreement and reiterated calls for it to be scrapped from the Brexit withdrawal deal. In a letter to outgoing European Council President Donald, Mr Johnson said the backstop is “unviable”, describing it as “anti-democratic” and inconsistent with UK sovereignty and his country’s desire for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU.

Mr Johnson offered to give a legally binding commitment not to introduce infrastructure, checks or controls on the Irish border and said he hoped the EU would do likewise.

Mr Johnson claimed “it has become increasingly clear that the backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement”.

He said that by removing control of such large areas of commercial and economic life of the North and giving them to an external body over which the people of the North have no democratic control “this balance risks being undermined”. Mr Johnson claimed the Belfast agreement “neither depends upon nor requires a particular customs or regulatory regime”.

Mr Johnson said the UK and the EU must strive to find alternative solutions proposing that the backstop be replaced with a “alternative arrangements” as far as possible before the end of the transition period as part of the future relationship.

Online Editors

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