Boris Johnson tells EU Brexit backstop must be 'replaced' as he warns 'time is very short'
Boris Johnson has told the European Union that the Irish backstop must be "replaced" if MPs are to get behind a Brexit deal before 31 October.
In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk ahead of trips to Paris and Berlin this week, the Prime Minister said time was now "very short" as he vowed that the UK would work with "energy and determination" to achieve an agreement with the EU.
But he branded the backstop - which was included in the deal to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic if the next phase of talks between the UK and the EU break down - “anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK”.
The letter to Mr Tusk marks the first time the UK's new Prime Minister has formally spelled the changes he wants made to the withdrawal agreement thrashed out by his predecessor Theresa May.
The EU has so far rejected calls to reopen the deal, with European leaders arguing that it represents the only way to preserve an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if Britain stays committed to leaving the customs union and single market.
But, in his letter, Mr Johnson said problems with the arrangement run "much deeper than the simple political reality that it has three times been rejected by the House of Commons".
"The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland," the Prime Minister warned.
He said: "It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them. That is why the backstop is anti-democratic."
Mr Johnson also attacked the arrangement as "inconsistent" with Britain's post-Brexit plans, arguing that while the UK Government wants to stay "committed to world-class environment, product and labour standards" after Brexit, the backstop - if triggered - will stop Britain being able to "diverge" from European law in the future.
"That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy," the Prime Minister added.
Warning that the backstop "risks weakening the delicate balance" struck by the Good Friday peace agreement - a key concern of the DUP, who the Government continues to rely on for support in the Commons - Mr Johnson said: "While I appreciate the laudable intentions with which the backstop was designed, by removing control of such large areas of the commercial and economic life of Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no democratic control, this balance risks being undermined."
Instead, Mr Johnson said Britain would be ready to offer the EU a "legally binding commitment" to avoid introducing new "infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland", and urged European leaders to accept plans for so-called "alternative arrangements" at the border to replace the backstop.
"I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship," the PM wrote.
Arguing that MPs could get behind a deal if his demands were met, Mr Johnson said: "Time is very short. But the UK is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise.
"I am equally confident that our Parliament would be able to act rapidly if we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement which did not contain the 'backstop': indeed it has already demonstrated that there is a majority for an agreement on these lines."
The letter to Mr Tusk comes ahead of two crucial visits to European capitals this week, with the Prime Minister set to travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel before heading to Paris the following day for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Speaking earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson said he was “confident” Britain’s “friends” in the EU would agree to change the existing Brexit deal, amid intense focus on Whitehall's preparations for a potential no-deal outcome on 31 October.
"I want a deal," he told Sky News.
"We're ready to work with our friends and partners to get a deal. But if you want a good deal for the UK, you must simultaneously get ready to come out without one.”
But Labour's Jeremy Corbyn accused the PM of "driving the country towards a no-deal cliff edge".