Friday 23 August 2019

Irish backstop must be abolished for a Brexit deal - says Boris Johnson

  • PM Johnson's cabinet meets for first time
  • Johnson pitches Brexit to parliament
  • PM Johnson says backstop must be abolished
  • Vows to make UK 'greatest place on earth'
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons in London, Britain July 25, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters Tv via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons in London, Britain July 25, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters Tv via REUTERS

Kylie MacLellan and William James

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the European Union on Thursday that the Irish border backstop would have to be struck out of the Brexit divorce agreement if there was to be an orderly exit with a deal.

Johnson told parliament the Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, must be abolished.

"It must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop," Johnson said in his first speech as prime ministers.

The Irish backstop is contained in a protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement which Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, agreed to in November.

The Government here in Ireland is in favour of the backstop, but it is the most contentious part of the deal for British politicians who fear it will slice Northern Ireland off from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Johnson's government does not have a majority in parliament so rules with the help of 10 Northern Irish lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party, who vehemently oppose the backstop.

When asked about Johnson's comment, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he looked forward to discussing the issue with Johnson. Varadkar yesterday said Johnson's pledge of a new Brexit deal was "not in the real world".

Johnson's dramatic rise to Britain's top job sets the world's fifth largest economy up for a showdown with the EU and a potential constitutional crisis - or election - at home, as lawmakers have vowed to thwart a no-deal Brexit.

He has promised to do a new Brexit deal with the bloc in less than 99 days but has warned that if EU leaders refused - something he said was a "remote possibility" - then Britain would leave without a deal, "no ifs or buts".

"Our mission is to deliver Brexit on the 31st of October for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our great United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth," Johnson told UK politicans.

Johnson's bet is that the threat of a no-deal Brexit will persuade the EU's biggest powers - Germany and France - to agree to revise the divorce deal that May agreed last November but failed to get ratified.

The EU has so far repeatedly refused to countenance rewriting the Withdrawal Agreement but has said it could change the "Political Declaration" on future ties that is part of the divorce deal.

If EU leaders refuse to play ball with Johnson and he moves towards a no-deal Brexit, some British MPs have threatened to thwart what they cast as a disastrous leap into economic chaos.

In those circumstances, Johnson could call an election in a bid to override lawmakers.

Johnson began his time in office by decisively sweeping away May's cabinet in one of the biggest culls of senior government jobs in recent British history.

Earlier on Thursday the new UK prime minister held his first full meeting of the cabinet, in which Brexiteers now dominate the senior posts.

"Night of the Blond Knives," said The Sun, Britain's most-read newspaper, a reference to the colour of Johnson's dishevelled mop of hair and the changes to his government.

A total of 17 ministers in May's government either resigned or were sacked, creating a powerful new group of enemies in parliament. Most of Johnson's senior appointees are Brexit supporters.

Sajid Javid, 49, was named as his finance minister. He is a eurosceptic who voted to remain in the 2016 referendum.

Others are avowed Brexiteers: Priti Patel was appointed interior minister, Dominic Raab was appointed foreign minister and Stephen Barclay remained as Brexit minister.

Johnson also appointed Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the official Brexit Vote Leave campaign, as a senior adviser in Downing Street.

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