Boris Johnson believes he has 30 days to persuade the European Union of a viable alternative to the backstop, after he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last night.
The British prime minister interpreted comments by Ms Merkel at a joint press conference in the German capital as him being given one month to find a solution to the Brexit impasse as he reiterated that the backstop provision would need to be removed “whole and entire” from the Withdrawal Agreement.
Ms Merkel described the backstop as a “fall-back position” that would only come into effect if no other solution could be found to protect the integrity of the EU single market.
“If one is able to solve this conundrum, if one finds this solution – we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come, but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come – then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this,” she said.
Mr Johnson seized on these remarks and said he was happy to come up with alternative arrangements that he has spoken of frequently since taking office last month.
“You [Ms Merkel] rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas, to show how we can address the issue of the Northern Irish Border and that is what we want to do,” he said.
“I must say I am very glad listening to you tonight, Angela, to hear that at least the conversations that matter can now properly begin. You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days – if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.”
Downing Street and the German Chancellery later downplayed the idea of a ‘deadline’, acknowledging that 30 days was merely aspirational.
Mr Johnson said he believed there was “ample scope to do a deal”.
Speaking to reporters at the German Chancellery, he said: “We do need that backstop removed, but if we can do that then I’m absolutely certain we can move forward together.”
Ms Merkel promised to discuss “practical solutions” to the Border insurance policy that Mr Johnson says is unacceptable – but she said the Withdrawal Agreement would not be reopened and the Good Friday Agreement “needs to preserved in letter and spirit”.
“From a German point of view, a negotiated Brexit is something we would very much welcome,” she said. “But we are also prepared for a no-deal.”
Mr Johnson said there were alternative arrangements that could be used to address the problem of maintaining frictionless trade at the Border, referencing trusted trader schemes and electronic pre-clearing.
However, these suggestions have been met with scepticism and opposition from the EU. Mr Johnson said that EU negotiations often come down to the wire.
“We can get this done and it is in the final furlong generally when the horses change places and the winning deal appears,” he said.
Mr Johnson also reiterated the UK would not implement checks at the Border.
“The UK will under no circumstances implement any type of checks, we think there are ways of protecting the integrity of the single market without having checks at the Border, that’s clearly what we need to work on to secure.”
An Irish Government source described the press conference as “solid stuff”, with Ms Merkel being “consistent as ever” and “Mr Johnson admitting the onus was [on] him”.
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