Boris Johnson recommits to do or die Brexit pledge in message to EU
Boris Johnson has recommitted to his ‘do or die’ Brexit pledge and promised to make Britain the best country in the world as he prepares for showdown talks with Angela Merkel.
Mr Johnson will travel to Berlin today to meet the German chancellor when he is expected to make clear he is serious about the UK leaving the EU with or without a deal on October 31.
The Prime Minister attempted to set the tone for the meeting by tweeting a patriotic video this morning of his first speech on the steps of Downing Street cut with footage of the Red Arrows, the Union flag and the White Cliffs of Dover along with a hardline message that he will not agree to another Brexit delay.
He tweeted: ‘We’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in.’
His bid to show the EU that he intends to stick to the current Halloween deadline came as leading allies of Ms Merkel rebuffed Mr Johnson’s demands for the Irish backstop to be deleted from the Brexit deal as they said it was ‘completely impossible’.
Mr Johnson set out his stall earlier this week with an uncompromising letter to the EU in which he said the border protocol must be scrapped for there to be any hope of a deal being done.
The letter, sent to European Council president Donald Tusk, sparked a furious reaction from Brussels yesterday as the bloc doubled down on its insistence that the existing divorce deal cannot be changed.
The kind of reception Mr Johnson is likely to receive in Berlin was illustrated by Florian Hahn, European policy spokesman for Ms Merkel’s party, who took aim at the British PM’s approach to talks.
‘Boris Johnson wants to smash his head through the wall,’ he said, ‘but the wall is thicker than he thinks.’
Another ally of Ms Merkel said Mr Johnson had made a mistake in sending his letter to Mr Tusk and suggested it had actually reduced the chances of a deal being done.
Meanwhile, Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign affairs minister, said Mr Johnson’s backstop stance was ‘making a No Deal far more likely’ and Dublin would not be ‘steam-rolled’ by the UK.
Mr Johnson’s meeting with Ms Merkel, and another meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris tomorrow lunchtime, come as the chances of a No Deal split from the EU appear increasingly likely.
Boris Johnson sought to send a message to the EU this morning as he recommitted to his pledge to take the UK out of the bloc with or without a deal by the Halloween deadline
Mr Johnson has demanded the backstop be deleted from the Brexit deal. He will deliver his demand in person to Angela Merkel today as he flies to Berlin for talks. The timing and content of the video he tweeted this morning, including footage of the Red Arrows, will be carefully noted on the continent.
As well as the Red Arrows, the video also included footage from the four nations of the United Kingdom including the White Cliffs of Dover
The timing – and content – of the video posted by Mr Johnson on Twitter this morning will not have been lost on Berlin, Paris or Brussels.
The video includes audio from Mr Johnson’s speech in Downing Street when he took office in July in which he outlines his desire to unite England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – the countries ‘incarnated in that red, white and blue flag’.
He then insists he will deliver Brexit and ‘restore trust in or democracy’.
‘We are going to fulfill the repeated promises of Parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31st, no ifs or buts,’ he said.
The tone of the video and Mr Johnson’s commitment to make the UK the best country in the world will inevitably draw comparisons to Donald Trump, the US President, who is known for his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.
Mr Johnson said yesterday he will enter talks with Ms Merkel and Mr Macron ‘with a lot of oomph’ but both sides are refusing to budge and are locked in a state of stalemate.
Allies of Mr Johnson believe his tough message that there will be a No Deal split unless the EU agrees to drop the backstop has hit home hard in Brussels.
But many in the EU remain sceptical about whether Mr Johnson would actually go ahead with a bad break given the risk of it causing severe economic damage.
With just 71 days until the Halloween deadline there is yet to be any movement at all from Brussels, setting up a potentially fraught eleventh hour dash to avoid a chaotic divorce in the run up to October 31.
Mr Hahn told The Times: ‘There cannot and will not be new negotiations. It is completely impossible that the backstop will be removed from the agreement or softened.
‘The only possible offer would be to agree more precise language for the political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit. But I fear this won’t be enough for Boris Johnson.’
Norbert Röttgen, another ally of Ms Merkel who is in charge of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, echoed a similar sentiment in comments reported by The Guardian.
He said: ‘The letter to the president of the European Council is not a serious offer, and Boris Johnson knows it.’
Ms Merkel, the German chancellor, (pictured in Iceland yesterday) is expected to rebuff Mr Johnson’s calls and insist the existing divorce deal cannot be changed
He added: ‘If Johnson really wanted to achieve something on his visits to Paris and Berlin, he would have been well advised against writing this letter.’
Meanwhile, a senior German official, asked by Politico what Ms Merkel would offer Mr Johnson on Brexit, replied: ‘Nothing.’
Mr Coveney said today that the chances of a No Deal Brexit were now higher than ever.
He said: ‘There is a consequence to the approach that the British government is taking and that consequence is that they are making a No Deal far more likely.
‘There is a reason why Boris Johnson is visiting Berlin today and Paris tomorrow, to try to talk to EU leaders about finding a way forward.
Simon Coveney, pictured in July on the Andrew Marr Show, said today that Ireland would not be ‘steam-rolled’ by the UK
‘I think he will get a very consistent message from EU leaders that the negotiations over the last two to three years are not going to be abandoned now.’
Mr Coveney said Dublin would not be ‘steam-rolled’ by Britain on the issue of the backstop.
‘We are not in the business of being steam-rolled at the end of this because a British prime minister has rolled out new red lines,’ he said.
‘That’s not a reasonable approach.’
Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan also launched an attack on Mr Johnson as he said the PM was ‘gambling’ with the peace process, according to comments reported by the Irish Independent.
The EU said that while meetings between the leaders of member states were ‘normal’ the bloc as a whole continued to have ‘one single, united position on Brexit matters’.
Speaking to reporters yesterday Mr Johnson reiterated his opposition to the Irish border protocol which is designed to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event the EU and UK cannot agree a future trading relationship.
He said: ‘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.’
Mr Johnson’s trip to Berlin and then Paris has been designed to try to stop Brexit overshadowing the G7 summit which taking place this weekend.
In his letter to Mr Tusk, Mr Johnson said the backstop 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.
A letter sent by Mr Johnson to Donald Tusk outlining his hardline negotiating position went down badly with the EU. Mr Tusk looked very relaxed yesterday despite the Brexit countdown after posting a picture on Instagram of him sitting on a hammock while looking after a baby and a dog
Mr Tusk responded on Twitter to Mr Johnson and suggested the British Prime Minister was being unrealistic in his asks
Farage fears Brexit deal ‘stitch-up’ by Johnson
Nigel Farage has warned a potential electoral pact with the Conservative Party has ‘hit the buffers’ as he accused Boris Johnson of plotting BRINO: Brexit In Name Only.
The leader of the Brexit Party has previously said a deal with the Tories to ensure as many Eurosceptic MPs as possible are elected at the next general election was a ‘possibility’.
But Mr Farage has now hardened his stance after Mr Johnson sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, demanding the Irish border backstop be deleted.
Mr Farage said simply deleting the border protocol from the current divorce deal would not be enough to save it.
He claimed that even without the backstop the agreement ‘would be the worst negotiated deal in British history’ and could never win the support of Leave voters.
The Brexit Party’s strong position in the opinion polls in recent months has led to calls for Mr Farage and Mr Johnson to do a deal to create a single slate of Brexiteer candidates at the next election.
Mr Johnson has resisted those calls but senior Tory figures acknowledge that such a deal would unite the Leave vote behind a single candidate in each constituency and put the PM on course for victory at a snap poll which could be held this autumn.
Failure to do a deal would risk splitting the Brexit vote and potentially clear a path for Labour or Lib Dem candidates to win.
With Mr Farage seemingly increasingly concerned by Mr Johnson’s approach to Brexit talks the likelihood of a pact between the two parties appears to be shrinking.
Downing Street said that unless the backstop is abolished ‘there is no prospect of a deal’ being done between the two sides.
Mr Tusk suggested Number 10 was being unrealistic and accused Mr Johnson of dishonesty.
He 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 redolent of a sense of optimism. But I think actually we will get there.’
Mr Johnson is adamant that alternative arrangements can be found to allow the backstop to be deleted and give the deal a fighting chance of being agreed by MPs.
Officials in Brussels privately accused Mr Johnson of making ‘incorrect’ and ‘misleading’ claims about the backstop.
In public comments, the European Commission said the Prime Minister had failed to put forward a ‘legal, operational solution’ to the issue and had acknowledged that if one could be found it might not be ready in time.
In his letter, Mr Johnson said while he wants the UK to leave the EU with a deal, he could not support a Withdrawal Agreement that ‘locks the UK’ into a potentially indefinite customs union and applies single-market legislation in Northern Ireland.
What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that deal is not in place.
It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
As an alternative to the backstop, the Prime Minister said the UK would agree to a ‘legally binding commitment’ not to put in place infrastructure, checks or controls at the border with Ireland and would hope the EU did the same.
The backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place ‘alternative arrangements’, as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship between the UK and EU.
But European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said the letter ‘does not provide a legal, operational solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland’.
‘It does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be and in fact it recognises that there is no guarantee that such arrangements will be in place by the end of the transitional period,’ she said.
Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, poured cold water on the idea of removing the backstop from the agreement.
‘I don’t see any majority in the European Parliament to remove the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement,’ he said.
‘It is a vital insurance policy, negotiated in good faith & supported by the people of the Island of Ireland. The time for bluster & political blame games is fast running out.’
The backstop was included in Theresa May’s original Brexit deal as a last resort measure to be used in the event no overall trade deal has been struck by the two sides by the end of a transition period.
It would effectively see existing EU rules on customs kept in place to ensure frictionless trade on the island of Ireland could continue and prevent the return of a hard border.
But Brexiteers hate it because if implemented it would last indefinitely, restrict the UK’s ability to strike its own trade deal and getting out of it would require the agreement of both sides.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly labelled the protocol ‘anti-democratic’ since he won the keys to Downing Street last month.