23 Aug 2019

Too late for new Brexit deal, France's Macron tells Boris Johnson

10:46 am on 23 August 2019

French President Emmanuel Macron has told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson there's not enough time to completely rewrite Britain's Brexit deal before a 31 October deadline.

    French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on 22 August, 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a meeting at the Elysee Palace. Photo: AFP

Mr Johnson met the French president at the Elysee Palace a day after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who challenged Britain to come up with acceptable alternatives to the agreed safety net provision for the UK-Irish land border.

More than three years after the United Kingdom voted to quit the European Union, it is still unclear on what terms - or indeed whether - the bloc's second largest economy will leave the club it joined in 1973.

Talks over lunch were constructive, a French official said.

Mr Macron left the door open to Britain seeking a solution to the Irish "backstop", but said any alternative must respect both the integrity of the EU single market and stability on the divided island of Ireland.

"I want to be very clear," he said. "In the month ahead, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that deviates far from the original."

On his first trip abroad since entering 10 Downing Street a month ago, British prime minister has warned Ms Merkel and Mr Macron that they face a potentially disorderly no-deal Brexit on 31 October unless the EU does a new deal.

Speaking in The Hague, Ms Merkel said she had not meant to set a deadline when saying on Wednesday that a solution to the Irish border issue could be found within 30 days, but to "highlight the urgency".

'Lets get Brexit done'

Mr Johnson told Mr Macron that he believed it was possible to agree a deal before 31 October and that he had been "powerfully encouraged" by what he had heard from Ms Merkel on Wednesday.

"Let's get Brexit done, let's get it done sensibly and pragmatically and in the interests of both sides and let's not wait until October 31," Mr Johnson said. "Let's get on now in deepening and intensifying the friendship and partnership between us."

Mr Johnson is betting that the threat of 'no-deal' Brexit turmoil will convince the German and French leaders that the EU should do a last-minute deal to suit his demands. He has repeated promises to leave on 31 October - with or without a deal.

Mr Macron insisted Britain's destiny lay in Mr Johnson's hands alone. He said the EU did not want a 'no-deal' scenario, but would be ready if it happened.

Mr Macron said that any new solution to the problem of the Irish border had to be found in the next month.

Signalling that the ball was in the UK's court, he said: "If we cannot find alternatives, then it will be because of a deeper problem, a political one, a British political problem.

"And for that, negotiations can't help. It will be up to the prime minister to make that choice, it won't be up to us."

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) places his foot on the table during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on August 22, 2019.

Never shy to play the clown during his political career, Mr Johnson was filmed joking to the cameras and briefly resting his foot on a coffee table at the Elysee palace, before waving at photographers in the room. Mr Macron watched on, looking amused. Photo: AFP

Irish border

After Brexit, the frontier between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland will be the only land border between the EU's single market and Britain.

The EU wants to ensure that it does not become a back door for goods to enter the single market - which guarantees free movement of goods, capital, services and labour.

Ireland for its part says physical checks could undermine the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after more than 3600 died in a three-decade conflict between unionists who wanted the province to remain British and Irish nationalists who want it to join a united Ireland ruled from Dublin.

The backstop, negotiated by Mr Johnson's predecessor Theresa May, provides for Britain to remain in a temporary customs union with the EU after Brexit, avoiding the need for any 'hard' border infrastructure, until a better solution is found.

But Mr Johnson said in Paris: "Under no circumstances will the UK government be instituting, imposing, checks or controls of any kind at that border. We think there are ways of protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing the UK to exit from the EU."

- Reuters

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