Brexit: Merkel gives Johnson 30-day deadline to avoid no-deal

‘Irish peace is European peace,’ says Macron ahead of visit to Paris from British PM

Britain wants to do a swift Brexit deal but the "undemocratic" Irish border backstop must be axed in full to prevent a no-deal exit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Video: Reuters

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson has welcomed a potential “blistering timetable of 30 days” to find an agreement with the EU on the terms of Brexit.

He was responding to a suggestion by German chancellor Angela Merkel that a short timeframe for negotiations on a Brexit deal was possible.

Speaking at a joint press conference before the two held talks in Berlin, Dr Merkel said a solution could be found in establishing “absolute clarity” on the EU-UK future relationship.

“If one is able to solve this conundrum – we said in the next two years but perhaps in the next 30 days – then we are one step further in the right direction,” she said.

Mr Johnson arrived to shouts of “No Brexit!” from a hostile crowd camped outside the Berlin chancellery.

He said it was “obvious” his first foreign visit as prime minister should be to Berlin, where he reiterated his demand for the removal of the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland after Brexit .

“We in the UK want a deal, we seek a deal and I believe we can get one,” he said, adding that EU history was filled with seemingly impossible deals pulled off at the last minute.

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‘Final furlong’

“It is in the final furlong, generally, where the horses change places and the winning deal appears.”

Mr Johnson declined to be drawn on alternatives to the backstop, insisting he had “said pretty clearly what needs to happen”.

Dr Merkel said Germany accepted the UK’s wish to depart the EU on October 31st “as a fact” but insisted other facts could not be ignored either.

“The Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement needs to be respected in letter and spirit by Britain and . . . the Republic of Ireland, which will continue to remain a member [of the EU],” she said. “This is part and parcel of our European position.”

She said the second priority of the EU in talks was preserving the integrity of the European Single Market.

The chancellor expressed hope that there was time in the next month to find alternative arrangements to the backstop – which she said had “always been a fallback position” – and avoid a no-deal Brexit, but said Germany was prepared for every eventuality.

Mr Johnson will have lunch in Paris on Thursday with Emmanuel Macron. The French president told international journalists on Wednesday night that there could be no renegotiation of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement “on the terms proposed by the British”.

‘Forget history’

He said scrapping the Irish backstop was impossible and would give the EU an unacceptable choice between protecting its internal market or preserving peace in Ireland.

Europe would not put peace in Ireland at risk, he added. “There was war in this part of Europe until recently and those who play with that forget history too fast. . . Irish peace is European peace and we shouldn’t weaken that just because of a British crisis.”

Senior figures in Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) described his visit to Berlin as little more than a domestic political game by Mr Johnson.

“He would like to communicate to his voters that he did everything but the EU was intransigent, it’s a blame game that he needs,” said Dr Norbert Röttgen, CDU head of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee. “But when it comes to blame and Mr Johnson, we are resilient.”

Meanwhile, a Government spokeswoman said it would “await seeing detailed proposals from the UK which, if agreed, would mean that the backstop would not have to come into force”.

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