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Emmanuel Macron dismisses Boris Johnson’s hopes of new Brexit deal in 30 days

French president says any new backstop would probably be very similar to existing policy

Jon Stone
Thursday 22 August 2019 13:45 BST
Emmanuel Macron dismisses Boris Johnson's hopes of new Brexit deal in 30 days

Emmanuel Macron has dashed Boris Johnson’s hopes of negotiating a new Brexit deal, warning that any possible agreement would look similar to the existing one struck by his predecessor.

Mr Johnson on Wednesday accepted a 30-day deadline suggested by Angela Merkel to come up with alternative proposals to replace the Irish backstop, which he has said must be scrapped.

But during the prime minister’s visit to Paris on Thursday, Mr Macron warned: “We will not find a new withdrawal agreement in 30 days that will be very different from the existing one.” He nevertheless said that “something smart” could emerge from talks if there was “goodwill on both sides”.

Mr Macron told reporters in Paris that though he was sometimes portrayed as the “hard boy” among EU leaders, “it’s just that I’ve always been clear that a choice was made and we cannot just ignore it”.

Mr Johnson arrived in the French capital on Thursday following an evening of talks with Ms Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday. Speaking to the media in the German capital, the new prime minister accepted that the “onus” was on the UK to come up with proposals to replace the backstop, telling his German counterpart: “You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days – if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.”

Listing his proposed alternatives to the backstop, Mr Johnson told reporters in Paris: “I think that the technical solutions are readily available and they have been discussed at great length.

“You can have trusted-trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing for goods moving across the border and I just want to repeat one crucial thing, under no circumstances will the UK be putting checks at the frontier.

“We don’t think it is necessary from the point of view of the EU to do that to protect the integrity of the single market, we think there are other ways of doing that. We have got I think adequate time to do it, let’s get on and do it.”

The withdrawal agreement already includes provisions for alternative arrangements such as the ones spelled out by Mr Johnson to surpass the backstop if they are ready at the end of the transition period. However such systems do not yet exist to the extent required by both side’s red lines.

Mr Macron warned the prime minister that the withdrawal agreement and its included Irish backstop were “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling” but in fact “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market.

The French president said the EU had “always said that it was available to discuss, depending on the wishes of the UK, our future relationship” but that its two red lines above could not be changed.

But speaking on a visit to the Netherlands on Thursday, Angela Merkel downplayed her 30-day comments from the day before.

“I said that what one can achieve in three or two years can also be achieved in 30 days. Better said, one must say that one can also achieve it by October 31,” she told a press conference in the Hague.

“It is not about 30 days. The 30 days were meant as an example to highlight the fact that we need to achieve it in a short time because Britain had said they want to leave the European Union on October 31.”

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