By Thomas Colson / Business Insider
European officials in Dublin and Brussels have immediately rejected UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new demand to renegotiate Britain’s exit deal, ahead of his meetings later this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Johnson wrote to the European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, on Monday demanding that the European Union drop the Northern Ireland backstop from the Brexit agreement.
He described the backstop — which seeks to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit — as “anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK” because it could keep the UK bound in the EU’s customs union.
He instead suggested that “alternative arrangements “and technological solutions must be implemented at the Irish border in exchange for new unspecified “commitments” on the border from the UK.
On Tuesday, Tusk responded by accusing Johnson of seeking to reestablish an Irish border.
“The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found,” he tweeted.
“Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border.
“Even if they do not admit it.”
Natasha Bertaud, the European Commission’s deputy spokeswoman, confirmed that Tusk’s tweet was written in response to Johnson’s letter and that it reflected the commission’s position.
“We take note of Prime Minister Johnson’s letter,” she said.
Brussels sources ruled out any renegotiation to the withdrawal agreement, which contains the backstop.
“There was a 2-1/2-year negotiating process in which the EU compromised, including on the question of the backstop,” a source told The Guardian on Monday evening.
“The withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation and the backstop is not open for change. A legally operable backstop to avoid a hard border remains central to the withdrawal agreement for the EU27.”
EU officials believe the backstop is needed to preserve the integrity of the European single market and to preserve the Irish peace settlement.
It was included in the withdrawal agreement struck between EU and UK officials last year — an agreement the UK Parliament rejected three times this year.
Ireland’s governing party, Fine Gael, also rejected Johnson’s demands to remove the backstop.
Sen. Neale Richmond, the party’s spokesman on European affairs, said Johnson’s description of the backstop as “anti-democratic” was “new found spin,” tweeting that Johnson had voted for it as part of the withdrawal agreement earlier this year.
He added that most people in Northern Ireland supported the backstop and that it protected, rather than threatened, the peace agreement.
Johnson spoke on the phone with Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, for over an hour shortly before the letter was published, with the two leaders outlining their opposing perspectives on the need for the backstop.
The pair also agreed to meet in Dublin in early September.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on October 31, and Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit with or without a deal, despite warnings from business leaders that trade disruption would cause severe problems for many firms.
Some MPs believe Johnson’s demands for concessions from the EU are so unrealistic that he is actively seeking no deal.
He insisted in the letter, however, that he was hoping to secure a negotiated deal with Brussels.
“You have my personal commitment that this government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement,” he wrote. “That is our highest priority.”
Johnson is expected to meet with Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday and with Macron in Paris on Thursday ahead of the G7 Summit this weekend.
Featured Photo: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson / Getty