Monday 16 September 2019

Merkel refuses to abandon backstop and signals tough stance on Johnson

In the spotlight: Carrie Symonds, the partner of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, attends Birdfair, an environmental awareness conference, at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Egleton near Oakham, England, yesterday. Photo: Joe Giddens - WPA Pool/Getty Images
In the spotlight: Carrie Symonds, the partner of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, attends Birdfair, an environmental awareness conference, at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Egleton near Oakham, England, yesterday. Photo: Joe Giddens - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Justin Huggler and Camilla Tominey

Angela Merkel will refuse Boris Johnson's demands to abandon the backstop and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement at next weekend's G7 summit, according to a leaked German government briefing paper.

Instead, the chancellor will tell Mr Johnson that Germany is ready to let Britain walk away from the EU with no deal.

Boris Johnson is likely to meet Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron ahead of the G7 summit. Photo: Downing Street/PA Wire
Boris Johnson is likely to meet Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron ahead of the G7 summit. Photo: Downing Street/PA Wire

The tough stance emerged from a briefing paper prepared ahead of talks between Sajid Javid, the UK chancellor, and Olaf Scholz, his German counterpart, in Berlin yesterday.

Germany believes there is a "high probability" of a no-deal Brexit on October 31, according to the document leaked to the 'Handelsblatt' newspaper.

The briefing paper warns the EU must not "lose its nerve" and must "stick to the line" that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated.

The German government believes the EU is prepared for no deal and its economic impact, according to the paper.

It also suggests Berlin is not convinced Mr Johnson could win parliamentary approval for a revised deal without the backstop.

The briefing was prepared for Mr Scholz by the finance ministry ahead of the talks with Mr Javid - the first senior ministerial meeting between the nations since Mr Johnson entered No 10.

In public, Mr Scholz has said Germany will do everything it can to secure a deal with the UK. But the leaked paper says it is "currently unforeseeable" that Mr Johnson "will change his tough negotiating position".

Ms Merkel and Mr Johnson are to meet at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, but the leaked paper predicts the UK prime minister may use the event for a "big moment" to announce a breakthrough or failure in negotiations.

In advance of the summit, the UK prime minister is likely to meet with Ms Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, as early as Tuesday.

Mr Johnson has accepted an offer from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for a meeting to try to break the deadlock over the backstop, but no date has been set.

Mr Johnson has been insisting that he wants the 27 EU countries, including Ireland, to drop the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement because it would keep the UK closely tied to the EU after Brexit.

Meanwhile, in Britain, veteran MPs from both the Conservative and Labour parties said they would be willing to lead an emergency government to halt a no-deal Brexit.

The suggestion is that either Conservative Ken Clarke or Labour's Harriet Harman - parliament's longest-serving man and woman - could take charge.

This was the latest sign that foes of an abrupt exit from the EU are joining forces to unseat Mr Johnson.

Likening the political situation to the two world wars, Mr Clarke said it was "not inconceivable" that a cross-party coalition would be needed to break the impasse.

"If they ask me to lead, yes I would lead it," he said.

"If it was the only way in which the plain majority in the House of Commons that is opposed to a no-deal exit could find a way forward, I wouldn't object to it."

Jo Swinson, leader of the centrist pro-European Union Liberal Democrats, has proposed a caretaker government led by either Mr Clarke or Ms Harman, former cabinet ministers from the centrist wings of the two main parties.

Yesterday, Ms Swinson told BBC radio she had spoken to both of them, and both said they would be willing to serve.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that by convention when a government collapses the leader of the main opposition party is called upon to form a government.

"The principle is that the Labour Party is the main opposition party, we've an aspiration to go into government...We are ready to serve," he told the BBC.

Labour wants a vote of no confidence shortly after the UK parliament returns from its summer break on September 3.

Irish Independent

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