Berlin, 22 August 2019 (dpa/MIA) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both reiterated their commitment to ensuring that Britain leaves the European Union with a negotiated deal during a meeting in Berlin on Wednesday.
However, Johnson said he believed the so-called backstop, an arrangement included in the withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, had “grave, grave defects” and that it therefore “plainly has to go.”
“But once we get rid of it, if we change it, there I think there is the real prospect of making progress very rapidly indeed,” Johnson added at a press conference before the two leaders were set discuss the issue further.
Merkel said the backstop had been designed as a temporary measure – one that the EU had assumed the two sides would find a solution to after two years.
“But maybe we can find [a solution] in the next 30 days. Why not? Then we’d be much further along,” she said.
The backstop was designed by Brussels and London as an insurance policy to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member state.
Johnson has vowed to lead Britain out of the EU on the October 31 deadline, “no ifs or buts,” consequently raising the prospects of a no-deal Brexit, which according to a government report leaked to British media this week could lead to widespread food, fuel and medicine shortages in his country.
Johnson said on Wednesday that he was in favour of Britain leaving the EU with a negotiated deal in place, but that he didn’t think that his predecessor, Theresa May, had made real alternative proposals to the backstop in order to ensure this happened.
The pound ended last week down at 1.06 against the euro amid investors’ fears that Britain would crash out of the EU without a deal.
Sterling rebounded on Tuesday, but again edged lower in trading again on Wednesday after both Merkel and EU leaders ruled out reopening negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.
An unregulated exit would also harm the EU economy, but so far the bloc appears to have been unmoved by Johnson’s demands and has ruled out relaunching negotiations, even as London seeks to lay the blame for a no-deal Brexit at its door.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also echoed Merkel’s call for an orderly Brexit on Wednesday, but like Merkel, appeared to rule out reopening negotiations.
“All variations that can still be proposed have in fact already been the focus of talks,” Steinmeier said. “I therefore consider it unlikely that negotiations will restart.”
The talks between Merkel and Johnson take place after Johnson sent a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk outlining the problems he sees in the current EU withdrawal agreement, negotiated by May.
In the letter, Johnson pressed for the removal of the controversial Irish backstop, describing it as “anti-democratic” and “inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK.”
The German chancellor said she was now focused on ensuring Britain leaves the EU in such a manner that the two sides could still have a close and amicable relationship in the future, and that once Britain had successfully left the EU, the two sides should discuss a free trade agreement.
Johnson said the Britain and Germany stood “shoulder to shoulder” on many international issues, including as members of NATO and in the fight to curb climate change.
After talks with Merkel, Johnson travels to Paris on Thursday to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, who has in the past taken an even tougher stance on Brexit.
Both the talks with Merkel and Macron are likely to help set the stage for a meeting of Group of Seven leaders later this week in the French resort town of Biarritz, where Brexit is expected to be a key issue.