BERLIN (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday offered a glimmer of hope to visiting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the EU and UK could reach an agreement to avoid a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
Merkel said perhaps an agreement would be possible within “30 days” for Britain to leave the EU, if a solution could be found to the thorny issue of the Irish border.
The British prime minister has been adamant that he will not accept the “backstop” border plan agreed under his predecessor Theresa May and warned that the UK will exit the EU on October 31, even at the cost of economic turmoil.
The backstop mechanism aims to prevent a “hard border” between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, which could revive sectarian tensions. But critics have derided the plan because it would temporarily keep Britain in the EU customs union.
Johnson again stressed his view that the backstop “has grave, grave defects for a sovereign, democratic country like the UK” and added that the provision “plainly has to go.”
Merkel said that the mechanism was always meant as a “fallback position” to protect the “integrity of the single market” for the period in which the other 27 EU members and London define their future relationship.
In the search for a solution, she said, “we have said we would probably find it in the next two years, but maybe we can do it in the next 30 days, why not? Then we are one step further in the right direction.”
Johnson told Merkel that he welcomed the “very blistering timetable of 30 days,” adding that “I’m more than happy with that”.
He added: “I just want to be absolutely clear with all our German friends and the German government that we in the UK want a deal, we seek a deal, and I believe we can do that.”
“Wir schaffen das,” he quipped, borrowing Merkel’s signature German phrase on managing the 2015 refugee influx that translates to “we can do it”.
Johnson, in a “do-or-die” gamble, has insisted Britain will leave the EU on October 31, no matter whether it has ironed out remaining differences with the bloc or not.
Ahead of his Berlin visit, Johnson reaffirmed in a tweet that “we’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in”. The message was adorned with a Union Jack flag.
After a dinner with Merkel, Johnson travels to France Thursday for a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron where he is likely to face a tougher audience.
Macron on Wednesday dismissed Johnson’s demands that the EU reopen negotiations on the Irish border, saying that the bloc had always been clear it would not agree.
“Renegotiation of the terms currently proposed by the British is not an option that exists, and that has always been made clear by (EU) President Tusk,” Macron told reporters in Paris.
At the weekend, Merkel, Macron and Johnson will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Brexit, and the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.
British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday upped his attempts to prevent a so-called “no-deal” Brexit, inviting politicians from across party lines to meet on August 27.
“The chaos and dislocation of Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit is real and threatening,” he wrote in a letter. “That’s why we must do everything we can to stop it.”
Given the shock and dismay Brexit has sparked in continental Europe, its vocal champion, the flamboyant former London mayor and ex-foreign minister Johnson, has also faced broad criticism in Europe.
German media regularly characterizes Johnson as a reckless political showman with Trump-style populist tendencies.
News magazine Der Spiegel recently caricatured him as the tooth-gapped cover boy Alfred E. Neuman of the American humor magazine Mad, with the headline “Mad in England.”
By Frank Zeller
© Agence France-Presse