30 days to ditch the backstop
Merkel holds out prospect of new Brexit deal if Johnson can find an alternative solution to Irish border
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