French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there was not enough time to wholly rewrite Britain’s Brexit divorce deal before an Oct 31 deadline.
Johnson met Macron at the Elysee Palace a day after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who challenged Britain to come up with 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.
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: in the month ahead, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that deviates far from the original,” Macron said after a warm handshake with the British premier.
However, the British pound, sensitive to the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ exit, jumped more than half a cent after Merkel said she had not set Johnson a 30-day deadline to propose a solution to the border issue, and that it could be achieved by Oct 31.
On his first trip abroad since entering 10 Downing Street a month ago, Johnson has warned Merkel and Macron that they face a potentially disorderly no-deal Brexit on Oct 31 unless the EU does a new deal.
Johnson told Macron that he believed it was still possible to agree one in time for the Oct 31 deadline, and that he had been “powerfully encouraged” by what he had heard from 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,” Johnson said. “Let’s get on now in deepening and intensifying the friendship and partnership between us.”
Johnson, an ardent Brexiteer, is betting that the threat of ‘no-deal’ Brexit turmoil will convince Merkel and Macron that the EU should do a last-minute deal to suit his demands. He has repeated promises to leave on Oct. 31 - with or without a deal.
The backstop, negotiated by 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.