Johnson tells Varadkar Brexit will not alter Common Travel Area

Two leaders speak by telephone for an hour, both condemn Fermanagh bomb attack

UK prime minister Boris Johnson called on Germany and France to compromise on Brexit, cautioning that the United Kingdom would be ready to leave the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31 if necessary. Video: Reuters

 

Prime minister Boris Johnson has told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland will not be affected by the ending of freedom of movement after Brexit.

The two leaders discussed Brexit and Northern Ireland for almost an hour during a telephone call this evening, Government Buildings has said in a statement.

They agreed to meet in Dublin in early September, and agreed that their teams would maintain close contact over the coming weeks.

However, the statement released by Dublin also noted the negotiations on Brexit can only take place between the UK and the EU’s negotiating team, led by Michel Barnier.

The telephone call came in the wake of a bombing in Fermanagh which the PSNI have described as the “attempted murder” of its officers and which has caused alarm about potential increased activity by dissident republican paramilitaries in the wake of a no-deal Brexit.

In the statement, the Taoiseach and the prime minister condemned the bombing and urged “anyone with relevant information to contact the PSNI”.

They also “reiterated their desire to see the Northern Ireland political institutions reinstated urgently, and agreed to work closely to this end,” the statement said.

Shared perspectives

On Brexit, the two men “shared perspectives on the Withdrawal Agreement”, Government Buildings said.

“The Prime Minister indicated that the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form will not get through the House of Commons, that the backstop would need to be removed, and that an alternative solution is required.

“The Taoiseach reiterated the EU27 position that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, and emphasised the importance of the legally operable guarantee to ensure no hard border and continued free trade on the island of Ireland,” the statement said.

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However, Mr Johnson reassured the Taoiseach that the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, which provides for open borders between the two countries and the mutual recognition of many rights and public services for Irish and British citizens, would be unaffected by the ending of free movement between the UK and the EU.

Earlier, Mr Johnson claimed that EU leaders will change their positions and allow the UK to scrap the backstop.

As the prime minister prepares for face to face talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel later this week, he acknowledged there would be “bumps in the road” before any agreement to drop the plan to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

It follows the leak of British cabinet papers this weekend warning that carrying out Mr Johnson’s threat of a no-deal Brexit would cause “incredibly serious” economic harm.

Cabinet Office documents from Operation Yellowhammer, reportedly drawn up this month, warned of potential food and fuel shortages, damage to the social care system and a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

“We will be ready to come out on October 31st, deal or no deal,” Mr Johnson said during a visit to Cornwall on Monday. “Now of course our friends and partners on the other side of the Channel are showing a little bit of reluctance at the moment to change their position.

“That’s fine – I’m confident that they will – but in the meantime we have to get ready for a no-deal outcome.

“I want a deal. We’re ready to work with our friends and partners to get a deal, but if you want a good deal for the UK, you must simultaneously get ready to come out without one.”

Compromise

Mr Johnson will meet Ms Merkel on Wednesday and Mr Macron on Thursday ahead of the G7 meeting in Biarritz on Saturday.

When asked whether progress would be made during these talks, he replied: “Well that is, I’m afraid, very much up to our friends and I hope that they will compromise.

“They have seen that the UK parliament has three times rejected the withdrawal agreement, the backstop just doesn’t work, it’s not democratic and I hope that they will see fit to compromise, but in the meantime we get ready to come out on October 31st.”

A scheduled first meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing European commission president, has been abandoned because Mr Juncker is recovering from surgery to remove his gallbladder.

Downing Street hopes to hammer home a message that EU leaders will have to negotiate with Mr Johnson, following claims that some leaders still hope parliament could stop a no-deal Brexit and force through a deal.

“[The prime minister] has been clear that there cannot be any actual negotiations unless the backstop goes; that’s the message he has delivered to leaders in his phone conversations and he will do that face-to-face,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

“We have been clear that what the EU needs to understand is that unless the withdrawal agreement can be reopened and the backstop abolished, there isn’t any prospect of a deal.”

Asked why the meetings with Ms Merkel and Mr Macron were taking place, the spokeswoman said: “The PM believes it’s important to speak to the leaders of France and Germany to deliver the message that he’s been setting out through the phone calls face to face.”

– Additional reporting: Guardian News and Media 2019

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