Johnson says UK negotiating hand weakened by plans to block no-deal Brexit

The UK Prime Minister has said European leaders are unlikely to bow to his demands while they bel...
Michael Staines
Michael Staines

15.10 20 Aug 2019

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Johnson says UK negotiating ha...

Johnson says UK negotiating hand weakened by plans to block no-deal Brexit

Michael Staines
Michael Staines

15.10 20 Aug 2019

Share this article

The UK Prime Minister has said European leaders are unlikely to bow to his demands while they believe there is a chance the UK Parliament will step in to block a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking this evening, Boris Johnson again insisted that the border backstop “is going to come out” of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

He accused EU leaders of being a “bit negative” in their responses to his demands but said he still believes, “we will get there.”


He said he would approach his engagements with EU leaders “with a lot of oomph” and said he expects to make some progress in the coming weeks.”

Boris Johnson Brexit File photo of the British Prime Minister Boris at 10 Downing Street, 06-08-2019. Image: Dominic Lipinski/AP/Press Association Images

He said ongoing efforts in the UK to prevent him from allowing the UK to crash out without a deal have weakened his hand.

“One thing that slightly complicates the picture is that our EU friends still clearly think that there is a possibility that Parliament will block Brexit,” he said.

“As long as they still think that Parliament will block Brexit, they are unlikely to be minded to make the concessions we need.

“It is going to take a bit of patience.”

He again insisted that the border issue should be solved during negotiations on the future trading relationship.

He was speaking after he published a letter he wrote to the European Council President Donald Tusk warning that the backstop is "simply unviable."

In the letter he said the UK was willing to provide “commitments” aimed at keeping the border open, but did not provide any detail on what those may be.

Responding, EU Council President Donald Tusk said that by rejecting of the backstop without putting forward “realistic alternatives” Mr Johnson was effectively supporting a return to a hard border in Ireland.

"The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found,” he wrote.

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

This afternoon, The Tánaiste told the British Government that he was ‘disappointed’ with Mr Johnson’s latest demands and warned that there can be no deal without "legal certainty" on the future of the border.

Simon Coveney spoke with UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay by phone this morning.

He told Mr Barclay that the UK has a responsibility to honour the commitments it made on the backstop in December 2017 and said that while Ireland is “always open for dialogue,” the Brexit negotiations are between the UK and the EU.

“The Tánaiste also made it clear the backstop was designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the all-island economy and mitigate against the damaging impact of Brexit,” said a spokesperson for Mr Coveney.

“The Tánaiste expressed concern at the lack of alternatives to the backstop in the letter from the UK government and repeated the need for legal certainty on the border issue.”

The spokesperson said the 30-minute call was “cordial” despite the impasse – with the two men agreeing to stay in touch in the coming weeks.

G20 Putin File photo of the European Council President Donald Tusk speaking at the G20 Summit, 28-06-2019. Image: EU Press

Since taking office Mr Johnson has consistently warned that the backstop must be ‘abolished’ in order to break the deadlock.

The EU has said the backstop is an intrinsic part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – which took nearly two years to negotiate and was agreed months ago by the UK as well as the remaining 27 member states.

EU officials have said they are willing to rewrite the political declaration on the future trading relationship in order to reassure MPs that the backstop will only ever come into force as a last resort.

Brexit hard border A mock customs officer stops cars as part of a protest against the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland, 302019. Image: Artur Widak/SIPA USA/PA Images

This afternoon, a Downing Street spokesperson insisted the UK Government is, “deeply invested in the peace, prosperity and security of Northern Ireland and always will be.”

“We have been clear that we will never place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border,”

“But it is clear that unless the Withdrawal Agreement is reopened and the backstop abolished there is no prospect of a deal.

“It has already been rejected three times by MPs and is simply unviable as a solution, as the PM’s letter makes clear.

“We are ready to negotiate, in good faith, an alternative to the backstop – with provisions to ensure that the Irish border issues are dealt with where they should always have been: in the negotiations on the future agreement between the UK and the EU.”

"Legally operable"

In a phone call yesterday, Mr Johnson told the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the withdrawal agreement would not get through the UK Parliament and said an “alternative solution” is needed.

Mr Varadkar again warned him that the agreement can’t be re-opened and emphasised the need for a legally operable guarantee to ensure no hard border and continued free trade on the island of Ireland.

The Tánaiste is due to meet the Northern Secretary Julian Smith this evening.

Mr Johnson will meet the French President and German Chancellor when he travels to Europe this week. He has also agreed to meet with Mr Varadkar in September.

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