Boris Johnson will enter EU leader talks ‘with a lot of oomph’

Backstop to remain until ‘alternative found’, European Council president insists

 

Boris Johnson has said he will enter meetings with EU leaders “with a lot of oomph” as differences between the UK and EU’s position over the Withdrawal Agreement remain.

The UK prime minister is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday before meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson reiterated his opposition to the Northern ackstop, adding: “Don’t forget why we’re doing all of this. The existing agreement just doesn’t work for the UK. And Parliament has thrown it out three times.

“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.”

The EU earlier rebuffed Mr Johnson’s demand that it reopen the Brexit d deal, saying Britain had failed to propose any realistic alternative to the backstop.

European Council president Donald Tusk said people opposing the Brexit backstop without coming up with a realistic alternative support the return of an Irish Border.

In a Twitter post which followed Mr Johnson calling for the removal of the backstop from the withdrawal deal reached between British and EU negotiators, Mr Tusk said: “The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found.

“Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it.”

Mr Johnson on Monday told Ireland and the EU that alternative guarantees to avoid Border checks could be inserted into the withdrawal agreement but the backstop must be removed before the current October 31st Brexit deadline.

However, Dublin was cool on the proposals on Tuesday night. While the Government issued no formal response, two senior sources played down the significance of the British initiatives and said that the position had not changed, that the Brexit withdrawal agreement could not be renegotiated.

Officials said Tánaiste Simon Coveney spoke to the British Brexit secretary Steve Barclay on Tuesday in a call that lasted 30 minutes.

‘Disappointment’

According to a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Coveney “reiterated Ireland’s desire to have an orderly Brexit and conveyed disappointment at the UK government’s letter to the European Council”.

Mr Coveney also stressed the “the importance of the commitments made by the UK in December 2017” when the British government pledged to avoid a hard border in Ireland by maintaining alignment with EU standards for goods. In his letter to Mr Tusk, Mr Johnson specifically retreated from that commitment.

Senior sources in Dublin pointed to the lack of any detail in Mr Johnson’s letter about how a hard border could be avoided, or what the nature of any alternative guarantees could be.

Mr Johnson reiterated British opposition to the backstop, the legal guarantee that the North will continue to follow EU rules and standards if no new trade deal is agreed in order to avoid a hard border.

Mr Coveney also told Mr Barclay that “while Ireland was always open for dialogue, the negotiation was between the UK and EU”. He also said he was concerned about “the lack of alternatives to the backstop in the letter from the UK government and repeated the need for legal certainty on the border issue,” the statement said.

The British Department for Exiting the EU did not have any initial reaction to the call. Mr Coveney will travel to Belfast on Tuesday evening to meet the new Northern secretary Julian Smith.

North-South relations

A spokesman for the DUP, which props up the minority Conservative government at Westminster, said the party recognised that some people were concerned about the impact of Brexit on North-South relations and trade and believe the backstop is the way to deal with these issues.

“However there can be no disguising the fact the backstop would place barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“We have been strongly highlighting the fact that Unionism in Northern Ireland does not support the backstop. None of the main unionist parties and groupings support the backstop. If Europe and the Republic of Ireland are serious about ensuring and recognising that progress in Northern Ireland is founded on support from both major traditions then it will have to face the reality that the backstop is not the way forward.”

James Cleverly, chairman of the Conservative Party, on Tuesday said the EU needs to show flexibility over the backstop because the issue of whether Britain leaves the bloc with or without a deal is now mainly up to Brussels. He said the EU’s insistence on the backstop was the main sticking point in reaching a deal.

Mr Cleverly told the BBC that “negotiations only work if people are willing to move and be adaptable” and that what Mr Johnson is asking the EU to do “is look at reality”.

‘Sticking point’

“The withdrawal agreement, because of the backstop, has been rejected by the House of Commons three times and it’s been very very clear that that is the sticking point, but without that there is a good chance of getting a deal through the House and that’s what the prime minister has said he wants to do.”

He added: “We’re making it very very clear we want a deal, but if that is not possible, if the EU are unable or unwilling to make a concession like this then we are going to leave on 31st October that has got to be what happens, that’s what we’ve committed to, that’s what we are going to do.”

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