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Boris Johnson tells Angela Merkel: 'We do need the Brexit backstop removed'

Johnson will seek to convince the German Chancellor to renegotiate elements of the Brexit deal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson with military honors for a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson with military honors for a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin.
Image: Michael Sohn

Updated Aug 21st 2019, 5:45 PM

BORIS JOHNSON HAS TOLD Angela Merkel in Berlin that the Irish backstop must be removed if a Brexit deal is to be struck.

Speaking in Berlin this afternoon, Johnson said: 

“We do need the backstop removed. If we can do that I am absolutely certain we can move forward together.”

He said the UK cannot accept the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form, stating that it “divides the UK”. 

“We want a deal, we seek a deal. I believe we can get one, we can do it,” said Johnson. 

Specifically on the backstop, Johnson said there are “grave, grave defects” with it, stating that “plainly, it has to go”. 

Irish backstop 

“Once we get rid of it, there is chance to make real progress,” he added, stating that he is “not attracted to a time limit” on the backstop either. 

He repeated during the press conference that once the backstop is removed, alternative arrangements can be found. 

Merkel suggested today that a solution to the Brexit stalemate could be found if new proposals to protect the Single Market were put forward “in the next 30 days”.

“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,” she said.

Merkel added: 

Then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this.

Johnson said there are an “abundance” of arrangements that could solve the problem, admitting that the British government has not been “actively proposing” alternatives. 

On the border issue, the UK prime minister reiterated that the UK “will under no circumstances” impose checks of any kind along the Northern Ireland border. 

He said “the onus is on us to produce those ideas, those solutions to the Northern Ireland border”. 

Merkel said the backstop has always been “a fallback” in the agreement, stating that it is an “expression of a problem that we have not yet seen”. 

“Britain should tell us what sort of ideas it has,” she said to Johnson in relation to the alternative arrangements it is proposing, with the UK prime minster stating that the “blistering” 30 day time limit to produce solutions is something he could accept. 

Merkel added that she has learned a lot about the Good Friday Agreement, and the ramifications to Northern Ireland if it is not honoured. 

“We think there are ways to protect the EU Singer Market…  that is clearly what we need to work on to secure,” said Johnson. 

He added that he believes there are “borderless arrangements” that can be achieved mentioning trader scheme arrangements, as well as electronic pre-clearance systems. 

Merkel said if the UK wishes to leave the EU it must respect the Good Friday Agreement. She said there are two positions, and at first glance, it might seem difficult to align the two, but a solution must be reached. 

This is the first visit in the UK prime minister’s marathon of tense talks with key European and international leaders as the threat of a no-deal Brexit looms.

On Thursday, he will attempt to do the same with French President Emmanuel Macron. 

At the weekend all three will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Brexit, alongside the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.

Brexit UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Source: Stefan Rousseau

Just hours before the German Chancellor was to welcome Johnson to Berlin, she warned of the economic impact a chaotic no-deal Brexit could bring . 

“The economic sky is not cloudless”, and global tensions and Britain’s impending departure from the European Union “are already causing us headaches”, Merkel told an aviation industry conference.

“That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today, about how we can avoid friction as much as possible as Britain exits the EU because we have to struggle to achieve economic growth,” the leader of the bloc’s biggest economy added.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed that an orderly Brexit would be “in every respect preferable” to a disorderly withdrawal of Britain, but that Germany was also preparing for the worst-case scenario.

In Berlin today, Johnson was received with military honours before his talks with Merkel. 

Although chances for a breakthrough appeared slim, a Merkel spokesman said that, after the two had spoken by phone, “sitting at a table together to discuss Brexit and other European issues … is of course useful”.

Yesterday EU Council President Donald Tusk said that the EU would not cave in to Johnson’s demand to scrap the so-called Irish border backstop plan, while Tánaiste Simon Coveney “conveyed disappointment” with Boris Johnson’s letter to the EU during a phone call with UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay. 

Germany Britain Brexit Source: Michael Sohn

 Ireland

Tánaiste Simon Coveney will also to travel to five European capital cities in the next week to copper-fasten Brexit support for Ireland.

Coveney expressed concern at the lack of alternatives to the backstop in the letter and repeated the need for legal certainty on the border issue.

As Brexit deadline approaches, and with neither side appearing to compromise on their positions, the Tánaiste has decided to do a whistle-stop tour of Europe in a bid to firm up support for Ireland’s position on Brexit, and in particular the backstop. 

While a government source said support is strong from European leaders, the Tánaiste is travelling to the capitals to ensure support does not slip.

Coveney will kick off a series of visits over the next week, beginning in Copenhagen.

The purpose of the visits is to discuss Brexit and the EU’s other priorities, but the main focus will be on ensuring there is no wavering of support on the Irish backstop as the 31 October Brexit deadline approaches.

The Tánaiste will travel to Denmark today, staying until Thursday and will be the first EU foreign minister to visit since elections there in June.

The Tánaiste will meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod.

It is understood the Irish government will use the opportunity to thank the people of Denmark and the new government for their continued support on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Tánaiste will address Denmark’s ambassadors from around the world at their heads of mission conference, and he will also launch a media offensive by taking part in a number of TV and print interviews.

Next week the Tánaiste will continue his European visit, travelling to Prague in the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Paris on Wednesday and Helsinki, Finland on Thursday and Friday. Next Sunday, Coveney will visit Warsaw in Poland.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn and  © AFP 2019.

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