Irish backstop is ‘indispensable’, Emmanuel Macron tells Boris Johnson
PUBLISHED: 13:19 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:34 24 August 2019
PA Wire/PA Images
The French president Emmanuel Macron has warned Boris Johnson that the Irish backstop is “indispensable” and cannot be removed as the prime minister wants.
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The comments have added to his reputation as the "bad cop" of the negotiation in contrast to Angela Merkel's "good cop". He had previously said that demands to renegotiate the Brexit deal are "not an option" and that in the event of a hard Brexit, the UK risked becoming a vassal state of the USA.
But he has followed these comments by echoing Angela Merkel's suggestion that a "solution" could be found within 30 days. Johnson had seemed encouraged by Merkel at a press conference in which the German chancellor said: "If one finds this solution, we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come. Then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this."
Johnson framed this as a "blistering" 30-day timetable for coming up with an alternative solution to replace the Irish backstop.
The pro-Brexit media has framed Merkel's comments as something of a victory. with the Sun's headline calling it a "Huge Brexit boost" and the Telegraph saying "Angela Merkel holds out prospect of a new Brexit deal."
Johnson seemed delighted by the timetable proposed by 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."
The prime minister is expected to meet Donald Trump at the G7 summit on Saturday, but the French president earlier warned that the UK would be a "junior partner" in its relationship with Washington after a hard Brexit.
"Can the cost for Britain of a hard Brexit - because Britain will be the main victim - be offset by the United States of America? No," said Macron.
"And even if it were a strategic choice, it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of Britain.
"I don't think this is what Boris Johnson wants. I don't think it is what the British people want."
France now views a no-deal Brexit as the most likely outcome, according to diplomatic sources in Paris.
Since then, Macron has backed Merkel's call to come up with a proposal within 30 days. "What Angela Merkel said yesterday and which is very much in line with the discussions we have had since the very beginning is that we need visibility in 30 days," he said.
"I believe that this also matches the goal of prime minister Johnson. No one will wait until October 31 to find the right solution."
He said the EU's negotiator Michel Barnier could be involved in finding an answer "without totally reshuffling the Withdrawal Agreement".
"We should all together be able to find something smart within 30 days if there is goodwill on both sides," Macron suggested.
Boris Johnson has said that the solution often appears in the "final furlong" but insisted that the backstop must be dropped.
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