Tuesday 17 September 2019

Merkel vows to keep backstop in head-to-head with Johnson

Steeled: German Chancellor Anglea Merkel Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Steeled: German Chancellor Anglea Merkel Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

German leader Angela Merkel has warned the EU's united defence of the Irish backstop will not be broken by Boris Johnson.

Ahead of her first meeting with the UK prime minister, Ms Merkel joined in a chorus of support for Ireland's stance on Brexit.

European leaders are dismayed at Mr Johnson's uncompromising demand for the backstop to be scrapped and his failure to put forward alternative ways of avoiding a hard Border on this island.

EU Council President Donald Tusk went furthest by accusing the prime minister and his supporters of effectively backing the re-establishment of a border "even if they do not admit it".

Mr Johnson said Europe's most powerful politicians are "a bit negative" but he will enter talks "with a lot of oomph".

As the stand-off deepened last night, he got the backing of US President Donald Trump who accused the EU of being "tough" on the UK.

Big opportunity’: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is insistent the backstop must be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Big opportunity’: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is insistent the backstop must be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Mr Trump said Mr Johnson was the "right person for the job".

"Dealing with EU is very difficult. They drive a hard bargain," he said.

A month after taking office, Mr Johnson will finally meet with Ms Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in the next 48 hours.

His meeting with Ms Merkel is being previewed as a showdown after she called for practical solutions to the impasse.

"The moment we have a practical arrangement on how to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and at the same time define the borders of the [European Union's] internal market, we would not need the backstop anymore," she told a news conference during a visit to Iceland.

"This means we would naturally think about practical solutions. And I've always said that when one has the will to find these solutions, one can do so in a short period of time. The EU is ready to find a solution."

She insisted this would not require the Withdrawal Agreement to be re-opened as has been demanded by the UK.

The German chancellor said alternatives to the backstop would be dealt with in the political declaration on future ties. Mr Johnson has proposed the UK and EU sign a "legally binding commitment" not to put in place infrastructure, checks or controls at the border with Ireland.

However, sources in Dublin said this was "too simplistic" as it offered no explanation for how the EU's single market could be protected if Northern Ireland's regulatory regime changed after Brexit.

Speaking last night, Mr Johnson remained defiant: "We can't have this backstop. So I'm going to go to see our friends and partners - I'm going off to Germany and then to France, and then to see the G7 at Biarritz, and I'm going to make the point that the backstop is going to come out."

He claimed there is "a big opportunity now for everybody to come together, take out that backstop".

"We will be looking at all the ways in which we can maintain frictionless trade at the Northern Irish Border.

"Whether it's trusted trader schemes, or electronic pre-clearing, or whatever it happens to be, all that kind of thing, checks away from the border, points of sale or whatever if you have to crack down on smuggling, all that kind of thing - but we will come up with those solutions, or agree those solutions I should say, in the context of the free-trade agreement.

"That's the way we are going to approach it. And you know what, at the moment it is absolutely true that our friends and partners are a bit negative."

The European Commission has questioned many of the claims made in a letter sent by the prime minister to Donald Tusk earlier this week.

An official briefing note circulated among diplomats made clear the EU's frustration with Mr Johnson's approach.

The document disputes Mr Johnson's claims the people of Northern Ireland would "have no influence over the legislation that would apply to them".

The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt said: "The time for bluster and political blame games is fast running out."

Irish Independent

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