Johnson welcomes ‘blistering’ 30-day Brexit talks target at Merkel meeting
UK prime minister insists there are ‘plenty of other creative solutions’ to Irish border issue
German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister Boris Johnson shake hands after speaking to journalists at the Berlin chancellery. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
German chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested that a solution could be found the Brexit impasse “in the next 30 days” if new proposals were put forward to protect the single market under the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Speaking at a press conference in the German capital, Dr Merkel said the Northern backstop - aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland - had always been a “fallback position” and would only come into effect if no other solution could be agreed that would protect the “integrity of the single market”.
She said: “If one is able to solve this conundrum, if one finds this solution, we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come.
“Then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this.”
She stressed any deal must ensure the Good Friday Agreement was upheld.
Mr Johnson said he wanted a Brexit deal but added: “Clearly we cannot accept the current withdrawal agreement, arrangements that either divide the UK or lock us into the regulatory and trading arrangements of the EU, the legal order of the EU, without the UK having any say on those matters.
“So we do need that backstop removed.
“But if we can do that then I am absolutely certain that we can move forward together.”
Mr Johnson said the “onus is on us” to produce solutions for the Northern Border and he welcomed a “blistering timetable of 30 days” to come up with the answers.
He added: “I think what we need to do is remove it whole and entire — the backstop — and then work, as Chancellor Merkel says, on the alternative arrangements.
“There are abundant solutions which are proffered, which have already been discussed. I don’t think, to be fair, they have so far been very actively proposed over the last three years by the British government.
‘Onus on us’
“You (Dr Merkel) rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas, to show how we can address the issue of the Northern Irish border and that is what we want to do.
“I must say I am very glad listening to you tonight Angela to hear that at least the conversations that matter can now properly begin,” he said.
“You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days — if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.”
The UK Conservative Party leader has travelled to Germany as he attempts to broker a new Brexit deal before the October 31st deadline, along with a solution to the Irish backstop.
Mr Johnson and Dr Merkel greeted each other outside the chancellery and were due to watch a military display.
Mr Johnson will head to Paris on Thursday to meet French president Emmanuel Macron and on Saturday will be at the G7 summit where he will meet other world leaders including US president Donald Trump.
The meetings come as Mr Johnson has reiterated his opposition to the Northern Irish backstop, saying he will not support any withdrawal agreement that includes it.
In an interview with ITV News, Mr Johnson said he believes there are “plenty of other creative solutions” to the Border issue.
“I think it’s a bit paradoxical that the EU side is talking about us putting up all the barriers, we’ve made it clear 1,000 times we don’t want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all, under no circumstances let me repeat again, under no circumstances will the government of the United Kingdom be putting checks on the Northern Irish frontier,” he said.
“By contrast, it is the EU who currently claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market require them to have such checks — I don’t think that’s true.”
Mr Trump on Tuesday said the EU was driving a “tough bargain” with the UK and that Mr Johnson was the “right person in charge”.
“Dealing with the UK, they have not treated the UK very well. That’s a very tough bargain they’re driving, the European Union. That’s a very tough bargain,” he said. “And I think that UK has the right man in charge right now — the right person in charge, in the form of Boris.”
It comes as Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay announced that UK ministers and officials will no longer attend most European Union meetings from September 1st. The country will only be represented at meetings where the UK has a “significant national interest,” the Department for Exiting the European Union said.
Meanwhile, the UK government is ramping up its preparations for no-deal with the chancellor Sajid Javid announcing an auto-enrolment scheme to help businesses prepare for post-Brexit trade with the EU.
Labour has called for ministers to “put businesses and the economy first, and rule out a no-deal Brexit”.
Peter Dowd, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “This panicked announcement from the chancellor is late in the day for the thousands of businesses that have customers and suppliers in the EU and rely on the steady flow of goods at UK ports.
“The issuing of EORI [EU registration] numbers will not come close to mitigating the disastrous effects a Tory No Deal Brexit will have on small business exporters.”