Boris Johnson sets red line for Brexit negotiations despite EU ruling out changes to deal

Despite voting for Theresa May's deal, the new PM said that "no country with self-respect" could accept it 

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 25 July 2019 13:58
Boris Johnson: We will not nominate a UK commissioner for the new commission taking office in Brussels

Boris Johnson has made ditching the Irish backstop a red line for new Brexit negotiations, telling MPs that he will talk with Brussels only on that basis.

His position comes despite EU officials repeatedly insisting they will not reopen the withdrawal agreement sealed with Theresa May last November, of which the backstop forms an integral part.

Making his first statement to the House of Commons as prime minister, Mr Johnson restated his absolute commitment to taking the UK out of the EU by 31 October, with or without a deal.

And he insisted that any deal must strip out all mention of the backstop - which keeps the UK in a customs union until an alternative way is found to keep the Irish border open - and hold the issue back to later negotiations on the future trade relationship between the UK and EU.

Despite having voted in favour of Ms May's deal less than four months ago, the new PM denounced it as "unacceptable" and insisted that "no country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect" could agree it.

A time limit on the backstop - something which has already been rejected by the EU - was "not enough", he said.

"If an agreement is to be reached it must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop," Mr Johnson told MPs.

Boris Johnson makes his first statement to Parliament as prime minister

"For our part we are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative, 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."

To heckles of "how?" from opposition MPs, Mr Johnson insisted that alternative arrangements for overseeing movements across what would be the post-Brexit UK's only land border with the EU were "perfectly possible and perfectly compatible with the Belfast, or Good Friday, Agreement".I

He said that he and Brexit secretary Dominic Raab were "ready to meet and to talk on this basis to the Commission or other EU colleagues whenever - and wherever - they are ready to do so".

Mr Johnson promised the UK would throw itself into negotiations with "the greatest energy and determination and in the spirit of friendship".

And he added: "I hope that the EU will be equally ready and that they will rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the withdrawal agreement."

But he said that if Brussels would not budge, the UK was ready to leave without a deal, with preparations "turbo-charged" by Michael Gove, who has been given special responsibilties to get the country ready in his new role as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mr Johnson also announced that he would not be making a nomination of a UK commissioner to join the team of newly-elected president Ursula von der Leyen, whio is due to come into office on 1 November - the day after the UK's Halloween Brexit deadline.

He told MPs he did not intend to prevent the EU appointing a new Commission. Under Brussels rules, the Commission must include a nominee from each member state, and until Brexit is completed this would include the UK.

The new PM also said he would "unshackle" UK officials to work on new trade deals elsewhere in the world by pulling them out of Brussels and Luxembourg, where they are currently involved in EU affairs.

Leo Varadkar

Speaking on Wednesday, Ireland's Taioseach Leo Varadkar suggested that Mr Johnson's hopes for a new deal without a backstop by the end of October were "totally not in the real world".

"That is not going to happen," said Mr Varadkar. "The EU council doesn't meet until 12 October. We have no plans to meet any earlier.

"Any suggestion that there would be a whole new deal negotiated in weeks or months is totally not in the real world".

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