EU leaders set to clash with next UK prime minister on Brexit deal

Bloc insists there will be no changes to the backstop amid European Summit in Brussels

EU leaders last night put themselves on a collision course with the next British prime minister, insisting there would be no changes to the backstop or the withdrawal agreement, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the EU had run out of patience with the UK.

Mr Varadkar also said there would be no further extension of the Brexit deadline without an election or a second referendum in the UK.

With both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining candidates for the Tory leadership after yesterday’s votes, claiming that new arrangements to leave the EU by agreement can be concluded before October 31st, EU leaders made clear that no such renegotiation is possible.

Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt will face Conservative activists in 16 hustings around the country before the party’s 160,000 members choose Britain’s next prime minister.


Mr Johnson won the support of 160 MPs, more than half the total, with Mr Hunt on 77 and Michael Gove on 75. An earlier ballot on Thursday saw home secretary Sajid Javid eliminated. Mr Johnson’s supporters denied they had lent votes to Mr Hunt to push Mr Gove out of the race in the final ballot.

Amid signs of hardening attitudes in Brussels, Mr Varadkar said many EU leaders had “lost patience quite frankly with the UK”. He added there was “enormous hostility” to any further extension of the Brexit deadline.

Directly dismissing suggestions from Mr Johnson that the UK could work out a trade deal with the UK during an implementation period after a no-deal Brexit, Mr Varadkar said bluntly: “There is no withdrawal agreement without a backstop and there is no implementation period without a withdrawal agreement.”

Other EU leaders also ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement and European Council president Donald Tusk is expected to restate the position formally after the leaders discuss Brexit at the end of the summit.

If Mr Johnson, the clear frontrunner to become prime minister by late July, and the EU maintain their current positions, a stand-off between the two sides seems certain in advance of the Brexit date of October 31st.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times