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Johnson positive ahead of talks despite Europe's aversion to new Brexit deal

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk

By David Hughes

The Prime Minister has said he will enter talks with EU leaders "with a lot of oomph" as differences between the UK and EU's position over the withdrawal agreement remain.

Boris Johnson is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin today before meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris tomorrow.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson reiterated his opposition to the Northern Ireland backstop, adding: "Don't forget why we're doing all of this. The existing agreement just doesn't work for the UK. And Parliament has thrown it out three times.

"We can't have this backstop. So, I'm going to go to see our friends and partners - I'm going off to Germany and then to France, and then to see the G7 at Biarritz, and I'm going to make the point that the backstop is going to come out." On Monday, Mr Johnson wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk and said that the backstop - the contingency plan to avoid a hard border with Ireland - should be removed from the divorce deal ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline.

But Mr Tusk defended the measure and warned that scrapping it risked a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Downing Street said that unless the backstop is abolished "there is no prospect of a deal".

Mr Tusk said: "The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found.

"Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it."

Responding, Mr Johnson said: "We think there is a big opportunity now for everybody to come together, take out that backstop."

He added: "We will be looking at all the ways in which we can maintain frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border - whether it's trusted trader schemes, or electronic pre-clearing, or whatever it happens to be, all that kind of thing, checks away from the border, points of sale or whatever if you have to crack down on smuggling, all that kind of thing - but we will come up with those solutions, or agree those solutions I should say, in the context of the free-trade agreement.

"That's the way we are going to approach it. And you know what, at the moment it is absolutely true that our friends and partners are a bit negative.

"I saw what Donald Tusk had to say and it wasn't relevant of a sense of optimism. But I think actually we will get there." In an interview with ITV News, Mr Johnson said he believes there are "plenty of other creative solutions" to the Northern Ireland backstop.

He added: "I think it's a bit paradoxical that the EU side is talking about us putting up all the barriers. We've made it clear 1,000 times we don't want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all, under no circumstances - let me repeat again, under no circumstances will the Government of the United Kingdom be putting checks on the Northern Irish frontier.

"By contrast, it is the EU who currently claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market require them to have such checks - I don't think that's true.

"I'm going to go, of course, and see if I can explore those ideas with our friends in Germany and France and at the G7 - let's see where we get to. It may be that for now, they stick with the mantra - rien ne va plus - and they can't change a jot or a tittle of the withdrawal agreement."

Officials in Brussels privately accused Mr Johnson of making "incorrect" and "misleading" claims about the situation.

In public comments, the European Commission said the Prime Minister had failed to put forward a "legal, operational solution" to the issue and acknowledged that if one could be found it might not be ready in time.

Any attempt to remove the "vital insurance policy" of the backstop would also be rejected by MEPs, the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt indicated.

Belfast Telegraph


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