Michel Barnier blasts Boris Johnson's 'unacceptable' demand to ditch Irish backstop

Posted On: 
25th July 2019

Michel Barnier has hit out at Boris Johnson's "unacceptable" call for the Irish backstop to be axed from any new Brexit deal.

Boris Johnson and Michel Barnier.
Credit: 
PA

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator also condemned the new Prime Minister's "combative" Commons statement in which he declared the UK's no-deal preparations are being dramatically ramped up.

Meanwhile, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told Mr Johnson that the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May was "the best and only agreement possible", seemingly scuppering his hopes of re-opening it.

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Mr Johnson had told MPs that Mrs May's deal was "unacceptable to this Parliament and to this country" because of the backstop, which is aimed at ensuring an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in all circumstances.

"No country that values its independence and indeed its self-respect could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self-government as this backstop does," the Prime Minister told MPs.

He added: "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."

And while Mr Johnson vowed to bring the "spirit of friendship" to negotiations with Brussels, he said the Government would "turbo-charge" preparations for a no-deal outcome.

But in an email to EU diplomats, Mr Barnier said: "PM Johnson has stated that if an agreement is to be reached it goes by way of eliminating the backstop. This is of course unacceptable and not within the mandate of the European Council."

He added: "As suggested by his rather combative speech, we have to be ready for a situation where he gives priority to the planning for 'no deal', partly to heap pressure on the unity of the EU27.

"No deal will never be the EU’s choice, but we all have to be ready for all scenarios."

Mr Barnier urged EU member states not to peel off in the face of Mr Johnson's demands, saying they should "remain calm, stick to our principles and guidelines and show solidarity and unity to the 27".

The Prime Minister spoke on the phone to Mr Juncker, who told him the EU was only willing to change the political declaration setting out the UK's future relationship with the bloc, rather than the legally-binding withdrawal agreement.

A European Commission spokesperson said: "President Juncker listened to what Prime Minister Johnson had to say, reiterating the EU's position that the withdrawal agreement is the best and only agreement possible - in line with the European Council guidelines.

"The two exchanged mobile phone numbers and agreed to remain in touch.

"President Juncker reiterated that the Commission remains available over the coming weeks should the United Kingdom wish to hold talks and clarify its position in more detail."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's day one, the Prime Minister has said that he wants a deal and going to be energetic in the pursuit of that. The fact remains that the withdrawal agreement has been rejected three times by this Parliament and it's clearly not acceptable."

And he added: "What I felt from the first moment that the new Prime Minister entered Number 10 was a real determination to get Brexit delivered for the British people by 31 October."