Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson is refusing to meet with EU leaders until they renegotiate and scrap the Northern Ireland backstop from any deal with the UK.

The Backstop is a clause in the Withdrawal Treaty, that former Prime Minister May negotiated that protects the open nature of the politically sensitive Irish Republic border with the United Kingdom. However it effectively leaves the United Kingdom with no way of terminating the interim stage whilst a trade agreement is negotiated. Critics fear the result would be to force the UK to agree to unfavorable terms notably on fishing rights and the frontier with Gibraltar. It took Norway 22 years to negotiate their way out of an interim deal with the EU.

The Prime Ministerrepeated that it is “absolutely clear that the backstop is no good, it’s got to go” and said the same of the Withdrawal Agreement as a whole.

Whilst his official spokeswoman said: “The PM has been clear that he wants to meet EU leaders and negotiate, but not to sit down and be told that the EU cannot possibly reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.“And that is the message that he has been giving to leaders when he has spoken to them on the telephone so far.”

It means that he still hasn’t spoken to Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, though a call is apparently set to take place soon.Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chamber has said: “I think it speaks to the deterioration in the relationship between Ireland and the UK that has been allowed to slip over the last three years in particular.”

Meanwhile the SNP Leader and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, told reporters that Johnson offered her no clarity on how he intends to get a new deal: “That makes me think that whatever Boris Johnson might be saying publicly about his preference being to strike a deal, in reality he is really pursuing a No Deal Brexit because that is the logic of the hardline position that he has taken.”

Changes to any deal on just the backstop won’t be enough though, with the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage warning: “If he (Boris Johnson) puts through that Treaty, minus the backstop, then put it to a General Election, we’ll fight him in every single seat.”

The new vigorous UK approach to negotiations is causing a radical improvement in the prospects of the Conservative Party. It is also causing something near panic in Brussels, as it dawns on the European Commission that the British value their national independence sufficiently to accept the economic costs of a No Deal or WTO terms Brexit. The costs to Britain may be high but there are compensations, notably for the fishing industry and the right to negotiate free trade agreements across the world. The costs for the member states on the other side of the English Channel will be higher if the Commission refuses to budge. The EU has a substantial trade surplus with the UK in goods, which is its largest customer.

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