Monday 16 September 2019

'I think it's going to be touch and go' - Boris Johnson fails in bid to break Brexit logjam at G7 talks

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on during a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Pool
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on during a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Pool

David Hughes

The prospect of a Brexit deal is "touch and go" but failure to reach an accord would be the fault of the European Union, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson, who was using the G7 summit in Biarritz to hold talks with European Council president Donald Tusk, said he believed the chances of a deal were "improving" following a round of diplomacy including meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Fear factor: Donald Trump, who is known to have a phobia of stairs, meets Boris Johnson in Biarritz. Photo: Reuters
Fear factor: Donald Trump, who is known to have a phobia of stairs, meets Boris Johnson in Biarritz. Photo: Reuters

But he refused to repeat his previous assertion that the odds of a no-deal outcome were a million to one.

"It all depends on our EU friends and partners, I think in the last few days there has been a dawning realisation in Brussels and other European capitals what the shape of the problem is for the UK," he told the BBC.

French President Emmanuel Macron walks with the Mayor of Biarritz Michel Veunac ahead of a meeting with Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
French President Emmanuel Macron walks with the Mayor of Biarritz Michel Veunac ahead of a meeting with Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

"I think it's going to be touch and go but the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal."

In a series of broadcast interviews, Mr Johnson confirmed he would withhold the bulk of the £39bn (€42.7bn) divorce bill if there is not a deal.

Debate: President Donald Trump at the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Debate: President Donald Trump at the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

"I think what the entire European Union understands is that if we come out without a deal that the £39bn is not pledged," he told Sky.

If there was a no-deal Brexit, he would "guarantee" people would still be able to get medicine and added he thought it "highly unlikely" there would be any food shortages.

Before the summit, Mr Tusk urged Mr Johnson not to go down in history as "Mr No Deal". The prime minister told Sky: "The people who are going to be responsible for no deal are not in the UK, we don't want no deal."

Following the talks with Mr Tusk, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had told the council president "we will work in an energetic and determined way to get a better deal and we are very willing to sit down to talk with the EU and member states about what needs to be done to achieve that".

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts during interviews at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France August 25, 2019. Andrew Parsons/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts during interviews at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France August 25, 2019. Andrew Parsons/Pool via REUTERS

An EU official said the meeting had restated known positions and Brussels had been hoping for "new elements to unblock the situation".

Mr Johnson said US President Donald Trump is "very gung-ho" about a major UK-US trade deal following the first formal meeting between the two leaders earlier yesterday.

US First Lady Melania Trump arrives ahead of a working dinner at the Biarritz lighthouse, in Biarritz, France during the G7 summit
US First Lady Melania Trump arrives ahead of a working dinner at the Biarritz lighthouse, in Biarritz, France during the G7 summit

The prime minister was praised by the US president as the "right man for the job" of delivering Brexit and was promised a "very big trade deal" as they met in the margins of the G7 summit.

But Mr Johnson played down the prospects of a transatlantic deal being concluded within a year, as he believes Washington wants. He warned a deal with the "protectionist" US would not be "plain sailing".

US First Lady Melania Trump waves after disembarking from an airplane upon landing at the Biarritz Pays Basque Airport in Biarritz, south-west France, on August 24, 2019
US First Lady Melania Trump waves after disembarking from an airplane upon landing at the Biarritz Pays Basque Airport in Biarritz, south-west France, on August 24, 2019

Both leaders were keen to stress their desire for a trade deal after the UK has left the European Union.

The US president said: "We're going to do a very big trade deal, bigger than we've ever had with the UK and now at some point they won't have the obstacle, they won't have the anchor around their ankle, because that's what they have."

But Mr Johnson has raised a series of areas where he wants concessions from Washington.

Mr Trump said he wanted a deal done "quickly" as in the past he had been "stymied" by Theresa May.

Irish Independent

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