Merkel gives Johnson 30 days to find solution to avoid no-deal Brexit
Angela Merkel has challenged Boris Johnson to come up with a solution to avert a no-deal Brexit “in the next 30 days”, putting responsibility for stopping the UK crashing out of the EU firmly at the British prime minister’s door.
After weeks of diplomatic tension, the German chancellor used her first face-to-face meeting with her UK counterpart on Wednesday to emphasise that Britain still has the power to resolve the crisis, suggesting that the backstop was “a placeholder that will no longer be necessary” if a solution to the impasse over the Irish border can be found.
But her comments were set against a backdrop of pessimism in France ahead of Johnson’s trip there on Thursday, with officials warning that Paris now views a no-deal Brexit as “the most likely outcome” and president Emmanuel Macron emphasising that a renegotiation at this point “is not an option”.
Saying that changes to the political declaration could yet provide a way forward, Merkel added an agreement could take two years “but maybe we can find that solution in the next 30 days”.
Her remarks came on day one of Johnson’s crucial visit to Berlin and Paris, his first overseas trip since he entered No 10.
In response to Merkel’s overture, Johnson sought to convey a willingness to compromise in his appearance with Merkel, saying that he was “glad” to hear his German counterpart setting such a “blistering timetable”, and adding “Wir schaffen das (“We will manage”), the same phrase Merkel famously used to sound determined in the middle of the 2015 refugee crisis.
Both leaders agreed the onus was on the UK to come up with a way to square Britain’s desire to leave the EU with the need to avert a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as set out in the Good Friday agreement.
Merkel’s attempt to give new impetus to the talks is likely to be challenged immediately on Thursday with Johnson’s visit to France widely seen as unlikely to yield significant progress.
Ahead of the meeting with Macron and the weekend’s G7 summit, a French official said: “If the UK considers that having a backstop is absolutely excluded, that is its right, but in that case it limits the possibility of reaching an agreement.”
The official added: “The idea of saying, ‘There’s not a deal, so I won’t pay’ does not work. We cannot imagine that a country like the UK would back out of an international commitment.”
Later, Macron flatly dismissed demands from Johnson to renegotiate the UK’s exit from the EU, saying it was “not an option”.
He said scrapping the Irish backstop was impossible and would mean giving the EU an unacceptable choice between protecting its internal market by reintroducing border controls at the Irish border, or preserving peace on the island.
Macron insisted that Europe would not risk peace in Ireland and that it would be “irresponsible” to do so: “We must all remember recent history – there was war in this part of Europe until recently and those who play with that forget history too fast.”
Philip Oltermann and Angelique Chrisafis