LONDON • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned the European Union yesterday that the “anti-democratic” Irish backstop must be ditched if they were to strike a Brexit divorce deal.
Mr Johnson, since taking office on Wednesday, has repeatedly said that if the EU continues to refuse to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by his predecessor Theresa May, then he will take Britain out on Oct 31 without a deal.
His biggest demand is that the most hotly-contested element of the Brexit divorce agreement, the Irish border backstop, be struck out of the Withdrawal Agreement, a demand that has angered Ireland and perturbed other EU capitals.
“If we get rid of the backstop, whole and entire, then we are making a lot of progress,” Mr Johnson said in the northern England city of Manchester, when asked if it was only the Irish border backstop that he wanted changed.
His Conservative Party does not have a majority in Parliament, is divided over how to deliver Brexit and under threat of a no-confidence vote when Parliament returns in September.
European leaders are prepared to talk with Britain’s new leader over Brexit but have so far insisted they will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. Many EU diplomats think the United Kingdom will hold a snap election soon.
NO DEAL WITHOUT A BACKSTOP
We are not reopening the Withdrawal Agreement… but we have shown reasonableness and flexibility in the past. A Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop is the same as no-deal.
MR LEO VARADKAR, Irish Prime Minister , on the need to include the Irish border backstop, Ireland’s own main red line in the Brexit talks.
Mr Johnson, who discussed Brexit with United States President Donald Trump on Friday, brushed aside those concerns. “My friends, I do not want a no-deal Brexit, that is not where we’re aiming, but we have to face the fact that at the moment we’re being told, as we have been told for the last three years ‘rien ne va plus’ – ‘the deal is fixed’ – and can’t be changed. I doubt that.”
A statement from Downing Street in London said the two leaders had agreed to start talks as soon as possible after Britain leaves the European Union.
The statement said Mr Johnson and Mr Trump expressed commitment to delivering an “ambitious free trade agreement”.
Mr Trump said: “I predict he’ll be a great prime minister,” calling Mr Johnson a “good guy” minutes after ending the conversation. A “very substantial” trade deal with post-Brexit Britain is possible, he told reporters.
Investors fear a no-deal exit would send shock waves through global markets and hurt the world’s economy.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. The backstop is an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of border controls along the 500km land border between Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland that were ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the question of the unification of Ireland and Northern Ireland would inevitably arise if Britain leaves the EU without a divorce deal. “If he means what he says about wanting to leave with a deal and wanting a free trade agreement with the European Union, then he will have to depart from some of what he has said in the last couple of days,” Mr Varadkar said.
He also said Ireland and the EU had shown flexibility in the past by accepting a review clause on the backstop and extending the backstop to cover the whole of the United Kingdom. “We are not reopening the Withdrawal Agreement… but we have shown reasonableness and flexibility in the past.”
“A Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop is the same as no-deal,” he added.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE