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18th Jan 2020

Johnson's call for new Brexit deal hits EU 'no'

  • Boris Johnson's new cabinet reassembles many of the hardcore Brexit believers (Photo: Reuters)

In his first address to the British parliament, new prime minister Boris Johnson on Thursday (25 July) told MPs that he wants to renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal by end the of October and intends to ditch the Irish backstop from the agreement.

Johnson insisted there is still time to renegotiate the deal before the UK is due to leave on 31 October and said he hoped the EU will "rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the withdrawal agreement".

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  • Johnson said the EU should be open to renegotiating the divorce deal (Photo: Council of the EU)

"I would prefer us to leave the EU with a deal. I would much prefer it. I believe that is still possible even at this late stage and I will work flat out to make it happen," he told MPs.

Johnson said the withdrawal agreement, which was negotiated by the previous government led by Theresa May and was rejected three times by the parliament, is "unacceptable".

He argued the Irish backstop, an insurance policy negotiated by the EU and the UK to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, means Britain gives up its economic independence and self-government.

"A time limit is not enough. 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," Johnson said, adding that the Irish border issue should be dealt with in the future trade agreement with the EU.

He argued that he cannot accept that the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is to have the entire or parts of the UK (ie Northern Ireland) remaining in the bloc's customs union and single market.

Johnson said "evidence is that other arrangements are perfectly possible" in line with the 1998 Good Friday agreement that guarantees peace on the island, but he failed to give any details when challenged by MPs.

Johnson said he had tasked the new minister without portfolio, Michael Gove, to prepare for no-deal, and added that the UK will not nominate a commissioner for the new EU executive taking office in November.

The new premier said he wanted to guarantee the rights of all the 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK.

However, Johnson could not sketch out a Brexit plan, when asked what happens if the EU does not renegotiate and parliament prevents a no-deal Brexit. He accused critics of being negative for not believing in an alternative solution.

Meanwhile, the EU commission has again ruled out renegotiations.

"The deal we achieved was the best deal possible, we will not reopen the withdrawal agreement," commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva said.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar had already said late Wednesday that any suggestion that a new Brexit deal would be negotiated by Johnson and the EU "was totally not in the real world".

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Johnson will have their first phone conversation on Thursday evening, after Johnson came to power on Wednesday.

Johnson's new cabinet plus advisors gives many of the Vote Leave campaign and true believers in Brexit, access to 10 Downing Street.

His chief adviser will be Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Leave campaign and the "Take Back Control" slogan, while home secretary Priti Patel, House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Dominic Raab as new foreign secretary, were all prominent Leave backers.

EU welcomes Johnson by rebuffing his Brexit plans

EU leaders and Commission officials insisted they want to work together with Boris Johnson - but said they will stick to the withdrawal agreement reached previously between the UK and the EU. A no-deal Brexit is now the likely outcome.

EU puts May under pressure over Brexit and 'Boris'

MEPs and Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insist that "speeches are not enough" and say that the UK prime minister's political weakness at home prevents progress in negotiations.

Ireland stuck between no-deal Brexit plans and peace deal

As the possibility of no-deal Brexit rises, Dublin will be tasked to police the EU's new frontier. But leaders there insist there are no preparations for a hard border - because it also needs to protect the 1998 peace deal.

Opinion

UK MPs' maths means election, not no-deal Brexit

Parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster, and societal pressures from the likes of Welsh sheep-farmers, Northern Irish cattle breeders, London business groups and Scottish Conservatives combine to push a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister by mid-October at the very latest.

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