Coveney welcomes ‘consistent’ EU support for Brexit backstop

Boris Johnson hints UK may refuse to pay £39bn divorce bill in event of no-deal

The European Union expects Britain to honour all financial obligations made during its membership of the bloc, even after a no-deal Brexit, according to European Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva. Video: Reuters

 

The Government has welcomed the EU’s continued support for the Irish backstop following the first substantive meeting between UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Council president Donald Tusk on Brexit.

“Mr Tusk set out once again the EU’s clear and consistent position which we share,” a spokesman for Tánaiste Simon Coveney said on Sunday night following the meeting in the margins of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.

“The EU remains open to any new ideas from the United Kingdom so long as they are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.”

Government sources said the leaders of major European countries and institutions that Mr Johnson has met in the past week – German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and Mr Tusk – have been consistent with the message that the withdrawal agreement cannot be revisited and any UK suggestions for change would occur during the next phase of the Brexit process: the declaration on future relations.

The EU is ready to listen to operational, realistic ideas acceptable to all member states including Ireland

The 25-minute meeting between Mr Tusk and Mr Johnson was described as cordial and positive, but sources said it involved no fresh proposals but rather a restating of the positions on both sides.

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The atmosphere between the two was in contrast to the previous day, when they accused each other of being responsible for the fact a no-deal Brexit is looming on October 31st.

‘Mr No Deal’

Mr Tusk had said he hoped Mr Johnson would “not like to go down in history as ‘Mr No Deal’” and that the “EU is ready to listen to operational, realistic ideas acceptable to all member states including Ireland, if and when the UK government is ready to put them on the table”.

Mr Johnson struck conflicting tones in a series of interviews on Sunday. At one point he said there had been a change of mood and that the chances of a deal were improving, but he also told the BBC the prospect of a crash-out exit remained “touch-and-go”.

“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 said, adding that “the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal”.

If we come out without an agreement it is certainly true that the £39 billion is no longer, strictly speaking, owed

The EU briefed that the onus was squarely on the UK to come up with an alternative to the backstop. Mr Johnson has said he will not negotiate with the EU on Brexit unless it agrees to remove the backstop, which guarantees continuation of a seamless border on the island of Ireland.

Divorce bill

He also raised the prospect of the UK refusing to pay the so-called £39 billion (€43 billion) Brexit divorce bill in the event of a no-deal outcome.

Speaking on ITV, Mr Johnson said: “If we come out without an agreement it is certainly true that the £39 billion is no longer, strictly speaking, owed.

“There will be very substantial sums available to our country to spend on our priorities. It is not a threat. It is a simple fact.”

Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said Britain would find it very difficult in future to strike any trade deal with the EU if it reneged on the divorce bill. She also argued that the Government must step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit and called on Mr Coveney to clarify where checks would occur in the event of the UK crashing out of the bloc.

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