30 days to ditch the back­stop

Merkel holds out prospect of new Brexit deal if John­son can find an al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tion to Irish bor­der

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Anna Mikhailova Deputy po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor and Justin Hug­gler in Ber­lin

BORIS JOHN­SON was last night given 30 days to come up with a so­lu­tion to the North­ern Irish back­stop and forge a new Brexit deal with the Euro­pean Union.

An­gela Merkel sug­gested she would be will­ing to ditch the con­tro­ver­sial back­stop if the UK could agree a suitable al­ter­na­tive by Septem­ber 20.

Mr John­son said he was “more than happy” with the Ger­man chan­cel­lor’s sug­ges­tion and said Brexit talks “can fi­nally be­gin”.

Mrs Merkel’s com­ments were seen as a vic­tory for Mr John­son on his first trip abroad as Prime Min­is­ter, ahead of a meet­ing with Em­manuel Macron to­day and the G7 sum­mit this week­end.

The prospect of reach­ing a deal could also help Mr John­son to fend off Tory rebels who are against no deal should Jeremy Cor­byn call a con­fi­dence vote in early Septem­ber.

Mr John­son de­scribed Mrs Merkel’s timetable for reach­ing a so­lu­tion to the back­stop as “blis­ter­ing” but wel­comed the pro­posal and said the “onus is on us” to pro­duce a fix for the Irish bor­der. He said that he was con­fi­dent of be­ing able to come up with a new way of re­solv­ing the prob­lem and that, un­der the pre­vi­ous govern­ment led by Theresa May, so­lu­tions had not been “very ac­tively pro­posed”.

He said: “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.”

In a let­ter this week to Don­ald Tusk, the Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent, Mr John­son said he was pre­pared to leave the EU with­out a deal un­less the “an­tidemo­cratic” back­stop was re­moved from the With­drawal Agree­ment.

Speaking at a press con­fer­ence in Ber­lin, Mrs Merkel said the back­stop 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”. The Ger­man chan­cel­lor 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.”

Mrs Merkel said she ex­pected the UK to present its ideas for a new Brexit deal.

“Bri­tain should tell us what sort of ideas it has, be­cause it is not the core task of a Ger­man chan­cel­lor to un­der­stand the re­la­tion­ship be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic of Ire­land so well,” she said. “As you will know much bet­ter about all the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment.

“We would like to hear first pro­pos­als put on the ta­ble by Bri­tain. We have shown imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­ity in the past as the EU, I think here too we can find ways and means.”

Mrs Merkel also sug­gested that changes to the po­lit­i­cal dec­la­ra­tion could pro­vide a so­lu­tion and could of­fer “pos­si­bil­i­ties” to break any dead­lock in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

She added that Ger­many was also “pre­pared for a no-deal” Brexit, adding: “Should this hap­pen, this will or can hap­pen, we are pre­pared for it”. Mr John­son re­sponded: “I must say I am very glad lis­ten­ing to you tonight, An- gela, to hear that at least the con­ver­sa­tions that mat­ter can now prop­erly be­gin. You have set a very blis­ter­ing timetable of 30 days – if I un­der­stood you cor­rectly, I am more than happy with that.”

He said the back­stop would need to be re­moved “whole and en­tire” be­fore any new deal could be reached.

The two lead­ers then held talks over a din­ner of veni­son and tuna tartare.

The meet­ing will put pres­sure on Mr Macron to open the door to ne­go­ti­a­tion. Yes­ter­day a source in the French pres­i­dent’s of­fice said a no-deal Brexit was be­ing treated as the most likely sce­nario. Last night Mr Macron told re­porters that rene­go­ti­at­ing the UK’S exit was “not an op­tion”. He also warned a post-brexit trade deal with the US would rep­re­sent a “his­toric vas­sal­isa-tion” for the UK.

Mr John­son is due to travel to France to­day to meet Mr Macron in Paris.

The Prime Min­is­ter has said he wants to re­place the North­ern Ire­land back­stop with new al­ter­na­tive arrangemen­ts in­clud­ing mo­bile ex­am­i­na­tions on live­stock and crops, trusted trader schemes and elec­tronic cus­toms clear­ance checks.

He said ahead of the talks with Mrs Merkel that he was look­ing at mea­sures pro­posed in a de­tailed 270-page re­port drawn up by Greg Hands, a for­mer Tory min­is­ter, and Nicky Mor­gan, the Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport Sec­re­tary. Mr John­son said: “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.”

The Prime Min­is­ter also said “Wir schaf­fen das”, or “We can do it”, in ref­er­ence to rene­go­ti­at­ing a deal. The ex­pres­sion was a catch­phrase used by Mrs Merkel in 2015 in ref­er­ence to let­ting mi­grants into Ger­many.

Boris John­son and An­gela Merkel at their press con­fer­ence in Ber­lin. Mr John­son said Mrs Merkel’s timetable was ‘blis­ter­ing’ but wel­comed her pro­posal on the Irish bor­der

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