Merkel gives John­son 30 days to solve Brexit

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY WAT­SON

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has told Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son he has 30 days to come up with an al­ter­na­tive solution to re­place the Ir­ish back­stop.

Mr John­son called her timetable “blis­ter­ing” but said he was “more than happy” with her pro­posal to speed up the talks.

The Con­ser­va­tive Party leader ar­rived in Ber­lin yes­ter­day to kick-start talks to find an al­ter­na­tive to the Ir­ish back­stop – a con­tin­gency mea­sure ne­go­ti­ated by his pre­de­ces­sor Theresa May to get an exit deal over the line.

Mr John­son, in a let­ter this week to Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, said Bri­tain would leave with­out a deal un­less

the “anti-demo­cratic” back­stop – voted down three times by MPS in Par­lia­ment – was removed from the With­drawal Agree­ment.

The back­stop was a stop-gap mea­sure agreed by Mrs May in an at­tempt to pre­vent a hard border be­ing re­in­stalled in North­ern Ire­land, a move that would have tied the UK to Euro­pean Union rules un­til a solution was found.

Mrs Merkel, in a state­ment in the Chan­cellery, 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”.

In an at­tempt to have a back­stop solution in place be­fore the 31 Oc­to­ber Brexit dead­line, the Ger­man leader said she wanted a new ar­range­ment agreed within 30 days.

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.”

Mr John­son said he was “more than happy” with the timetable pro­posed by his Ger­man coun­ter­part.

“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.”

A Down­ing Street source said the gov­ern­ment was happy with the tone of Mrs Merkel’s ex­change.

The gov­ern­ment was not briefed be­fore­hand that Mrs Merkel would ap­ply the “pres­sure” of a 30-day dead­line, but Mr John­son’s team is hope­ful it is an in­di­ca­tion that Euro­pean lead­ers are pre­par­ing to rene­go­ti­ate - an out­come the EU has pre­vi­ously ruled out.

Mr John­son told Mrs Merkel that the back­stop would have to go as part of fur­ther dis­cus­sions - or else Bri­tain was pre­pared to leave with­out a deal.

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

But Mr John­son, on his first trip to Ger­many as Prime Min­is­ter, said he was op­ti­mistic an agree­ment could be struck.

“What in my ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pens is that peo­ple find a way through and I think that if we ap­proach this with suf­fi­cient pa­tience and op­ti­mism, as I say, we can get this done and it is in the fi­nal fur­long gen­er­ally when the horses change places and the win­ning deal ap­pears,” he told the press.

Mr John­son and Mrs Merkel were to hold talks over din­ner last night, with the Chan­cel­lor telling re­porters “we need to get to work now”.

The Con­ser­va­tive Party leader is to travel to France to­day to meet with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron in Paris to hold sim­i­lar dis­cus­sions.

Mean­while, yes­ter­day Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn in­vited se­nior politi­cians to a meet­ing to dis­cuss avert­ing a no-deal Brexit.

In a let­ter, Mr Cor­byn said: “The coun­try is head­ing into a con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal storm, so it is vi­tal that we meet ur­gently, be­fore Par­lia­ment re­turns. The chaos and dis­lo­ca­tion of Boris John­son’s nodeal Brexit is real and threat­en­ing, as the gov­ern­ment’s leaked Op­er­a­tion Yel­lowham­mer dossier makes crys­tal clear. That’s why we must do ev­ery­thing we can to stop it.”

The meet­ing is sched­uled to take place on Tues­day at 12pm.

A Labour spokesper­son said Mr Cor­byn has “post­poned in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments to con­tinue his push to block a dam­ag­ing no-deal Brexit” -– the Labour leader was ex­pected to visit Ghana in West Africa next week.

The let­ter is ad­dressed to SNP West­min­ster leader Ian Black­ford, Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Jo Swin­son, Com­mons Plaid Cymru leader Liz Sav­ille Roberts, Green Party MP Caro­line Lu­cas and Change UK leader Anna Soubry.

Re­main-backing Tory MPS Guto Bebb, Do­minic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Caro­line Spel­man are also copied in, as is for­mer Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ter Nick Boles, who re­signed the whip in op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to Brexit.

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

BORIS JOHN­SON

0 Boris John­son greets Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in Ber­lin dur­ing his first for­eign visit since be­com­ing Prime Min­is­ter

0 Boris John­son holds a joint press con­fer­ence with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in Ber­lin yes­ter­day, ahead of talks to try to break the Brexit dead­lock

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