Macron dumps Johnson’s hopes for fresh Brexit talks
Merkel gives UK until Oct 31 for Brexit solution
PARIS/ THE HAGUE
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson exuded confidence on Thursday as he pressed French President Emmanuel Macron to accept his request to reopen Brexit negotiations, meeting in Paris on the second stop of his first European tour as UK leader.
After ticking off examples of close ties between the two countries, Johnson turned on a charm offensive, stressing that the UK wants a Brexit deal with EU. But even as he chummily called the French leader by his first name, Johnson added it was his duty to carry out the wishes of the British people, who by a narrow margin voted to leave the EU. As you yourself have just pointed out, Emmanuel, it is vital for trust in politics, that if you have a referendum, then you should act on the instructions of the voters. And that is why we must come out of the EU October 31, deal or no-deal, Johnson said.
Then of course we can take our relationship forward. I agree with you wholeheartedly Emmanuel that it is a quite extraordinary relationship. But even as he smiled for the cameras, Macron dampened expectations, stressing we have to respect what was negotiated.
He also reiterated what the EU has been saying for months – that it will not re-open the Brexit withdrawal deal negotiated with Britain’s previous prime minister, Theresa May.
That Brexit deal includes an insurance policy known as the Irish backstop, which would keep the UK closely aligned in trade with the EU if the two sides cannot find another way to prevent the return of checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Macron said that the backstop is indispensable. Mr Johnson repeatedly countered that Britain would not place checks at the border, raising the possibility that the EU would be forced to decide how to deal with that land border between the UK and the EU.
On the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Britain could have until the day of its scheduled EU departure to avoid a chaotic no-deal Brexit, clarifying that she had not set London a 30-day deadline. Merkel had appeared to lay down the 30-day rule to solve the vexed issue of the Irish border backstop when she met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Berlin on Wednesday.
I said that what you want to do in three or two years, you can do in 30 days or rather, you would have to say: you can do it by October 31, Merkel said at a press conference in The Hague with Dutch premier Mark Rutte. So it’s not about 30 days, but they were symbolic for the fact that you can do it in a short period of time.
Mrs Merkel said she was giving the new date “because Great Britain said they would like to leave the European Union on 31 October.”
“And until then we have to work on it – work on it if the will exists on both sides.”
The German leader said the aim was to find a regime that both respects the two-decade old peace agreement in the British province of Northern Ireland “and at the same time we can ensure the integrity of the (EU’s) internal market.”
In Berlin on Wednesday night, Mrs Merkel had appeared to give London its biggest glimmer of hope in weeks when she said that “we have said we would probably find it in the next two years, but maybe we can do it in the next 30 days, why not?” At stake is the so-called “backstop”, which is a provision guaranteeing that border checks will not return between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain.
Mr Johnson considers the backstop to be “anti-democratic” and an affront to British sovereignty because it will require London to keep its regulations aligned with the EU during a transition exit period.
The pound sterling rose one percent Thursday on Brexit optimism, largely on the back of Mrs Merkel’s comments and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron backing the idea of further Brexit talks.
Mr Macron however ruled out major compromises as he met Johnson in Paris.