Boris Johnson has threatened to bring Brexit negotiations down to the wire and reignited fears of the UK crashing out of the EU without a trade deal.
Speaking after his first meetings with EU leaders, Mr Johnson warned against any optimism of an imminent breakthrough in the talks and warned any deal on the backstop would be only struck at the last minute.
“We are making progress but I am just telling people not to hold their breath, because I have seen the way these Brussels negotiations work,” he said. Mr Johnson added that EU agreements were “always on the steps of the court”.
Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said Ireland could “never be fully certain” of the EU’s solidarity but the country had been supported to date.
In stark contrast to his optimism after meeting Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson also said he may not be able to strike a deal with the EU. He said the EU was “very hard” against proposals to replace the backstop with arrangements he claimed could result in “frictionless trade”.
“I’m afraid we will have to prepare to come out without an agreement and we can do that, we are very confident that we will be OK because we will have all sorts of preparations in place,” he said.
A senior EU source said Mr Johnson went back to London “with his tail between his legs” after meeting Ms Merkel and Mr Macron.
However, the source was sceptical of Mr Johnson’s comment about having to be prepared to leave without an agreement, insisting the EU still believes a deal will be struck with the UK prime minister.
There’s a view among senior EU officials that Mr Johnson will be prepared to “talk turkey” after the Conservative Party conference at the start of October.
A source insisted: “What Mr Johnson has found out in the last three weeks is that the EU 27 are solid and they’re not going to sacrifice Ireland.
“Ireland is standing firm, the EU is standing behind Ireland to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard Border. It’s good politics for Ireland and bad politics for the UK,” the source said.
However, there are concerns that a last-minute deal agreed between the EU and the UK might come at Ireland’s expense.
Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers (pictured below) said Ireland could “never be fully certain” of the EU’s solidarity.
“I know that’s been the fear all along and obviously we can never be fully certain but to date we’ve seen no evidence to suggest that Ireland is going to be thrown under the bus,” Ms Chambers told the Irish Independent. “I think that’s because it’s not just about Ireland, this is about ensuring that the European Union project can survive this and survive afterwards and I think France and Germany really see that.”
However, another frontbench Fianna Fáil TD noted that Chancellor Merkel “did not close the door firmly” on Mr Johnson when she commented on the possibility of a new agreement on the backstop being reached in 30 days.
“The fact she said it gives the Brits some hope and she’s not foolish, she knows what she’s doing,” the source said.
The Government is continuing to insist the EU will not waiver on its support for the backstop despite renewed efforts by the UK to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said the Government had called on the UK to detail its proposals for avoiding the need for the backstop.
“We have always said the backstop is a necessary insurance policy pending better arrangements that achieve the necessary outcome; namely no hard Border on this island, while protecting the customs union and the single market,” she said. “We look forward to seeing what specific proposals the UK brings forward in this regard as time is of the essence if a no-deal outcome is to be avoided.”
Yesterday Mr Johnson, who was visiting a hospital in Devon, commented following talks in Europe this week, saying: “It was interesting that there a was a lot of new mood music… from our friends and partners.
“They can see that we want a deal. They can see the problems with the backstop.”
But the prime minister also said: “This is not going to be a cinch. We will have to work very hard to get this done. I’m afraid we will have to prepare to come out without an agreement. We can do that. We are very confident.”
European chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier separately said in a tweet that the Withdrawal Agreement was “the best deal possible, based on UK red lines”.
He added: “We are ready to analyse UK proposals that are realistic, operational and compatible with our principles. EU wants an orderly withdrawal but is ready for any outcome.”
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