Backstop needed to protect stability in Ireland, says Macron
French president tells Johnson there is not enough time to negotiate new withdrawal agreement
French president Emmanuel Macron told Boris Johnson that the withdrawal agreement and backstop are “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling” but are “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market.
Speaking alongside the British prime minister who is in Paris for Brexit talks, the French president said the “two goals” the EU has with the backstop are maintaining the integrity of the EU single market and upholding the Belfast Agreement.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly said that the backstop - an insurance plan to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland - must go in order to avoid a no-deal exit on October 31st.
Mr Macron added: “The Irish backstop, as we call it, is a point that has been negotiated in the context of the geography of Ireland and the past political situation.
“So it is an important element that allows us first of all to guarantee the stability in Ireland and also the integrity of the single market. These are our two goals. When you talk about flexibility, well let me be very clear with you, these two goals have to be met.
“We therefore have to find a solution that guarantees the integrity of the single market. We have to be able to guarantee to companies, to citizens and consumers in Europe that comply with the rules of the European Union and whatever comes from a market that is not in the European Union is controlled.”
Mr Johnson said that “under no circumstances” would the United Kingdom set up checks on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson said his government would not be “instituting, imposing, checks or controls of any kind at that border.”
He said he understood the EU’s desire to preserve the integrity of its single market, but believed this was compatible with a Brexit deal that would also preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Mr Macron also told Mr Johnson the EU will not tear up the Brexit deal negotiated by former British prime minister Theresa May. He said there could not be a “reshuffling” of the withdrawal agreement — but he left open the possibility of making some changes to the deal.
He backed the 30-day timescale suggested by German leader Angela Merkel on Wednesday for the UK to come forward with its proposals but warned the backstop as indispensable. “We will not find a new withdrawal agreement within 30 days that will be very different from the existing one,” he said as he spoke alongside the prime minister at Elysee Palace.
In an effort to avoid the EU being blamed if a no-deal Brexit is the outcome on October 31st, he said failure to reach an acceptable deal would be “a political decision to be taken by the prime minister, it’s not our decision”.
Mr Johnson stressed while he wants an agreement, the UK “must come out of the EU on October 31st — deal or no-deal”. He insisted alternatives to the backstop could be found as “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.
There were “positive noises” about ways of addressing the issue, he said. “She (Dr Merkel) said if we can do this in two years then we can do this in 30 days and I admire that ‘can-do’ spirit that she seemed to have and I think she is right.
“I think that the technical solutions are readily available and they have been discussed at great length.
Mr Johnson said that he wanted a Brexit that was as “pain-free as possible” whether or not there was a deal. “A great deal of work has already been done to ensure that the transition on October 31st is as smooth as it possibly can be and so there are already agreements on aviation, on financial services, many other sectors,” he said.
In the remaining days before Brexit “we want to make sure we do all the necessary work on both sides of the Channel to make sure that whether we get an agreement or not our exit is as smooth and pain-free as possible for citizens and businesses on both sides”.
The meeting between the two leaders comes after Mr Macron issued a stark warning about the UK’s place on the world stage after Brexit. The G7 summit in Biarritz starting on Saturday will be Mr Johnson’s debut at a global event and he is expected to meet US president Donald Trump, who has previously been an isolated figure at such gatherings. On Wednesday Mr Macron warned that the UK would be a “junior partner” in its relationship with Washington if it sought to strenghten transatlantic links after a hard Brexit. “Can the cost for Britain of a hard Brexit — because Britain will be the main victim — be offset by the United States of America? No,” Mr Macron said. “And even if it were a strategic choice, it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of Britain.”