LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The British government sees an opportunity to restart Brexit negotiations with the European Union after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's meetings last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The two leaders appeared to relax their language on the Brexit withdrawal agreement and the need to retain the so-called backstop provision for the Irish border, a UK official said on condition of anonymity. Johnson has demanded the EU drop the backstop, a fallback mechanism that is meant to keep the frontier free of checks after Brexit but which is despised by Brexiteers who argue it will keep the UK tied to the bloc.
Both Merkel and Macron seemed willing to engage in talks on Johnson's concerns and suggestions for alternative technology-based solutions, including trusted trader programs, the official said. That could pave the way for the EU to agree to reopen the deal negotiated by Johnson's predecessor Theresa May, the official said.
Johnson has repeatedly said he wants a new deal but has also been clear that he will take the UK out of the EU regardless on Oct 31. Following talks in Berlin and Paris last week, and with European Council President Donald Tusk on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in France over the weekend, the focus is on trying to create space for negotiations, the official said.
Later on Tuesday (Aug 27), Johnson will speak by phone to outgoing EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to press his position, and next month he's due to visit Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin.
The trip to Ireland will be crucial to any compromise with the EU over the backstop, which the EU regards as necessary to both protect its single market and ensure the peace process in Northern Ireland is not jeopardised by Brexit.
Following a call with Johnson on Tuesday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter the EU is open to any "concrete proposals" from the UK as long as they are consistent with those aims.
But even if Johnson is successful in removing the backstop from the deal, he still faces a fight at home from both sides of the Brexit argument.
Nigel Farage said his Brexit Party has now selected candidates for every parliamentary constituency and is ready to fight a general election.
"Can you trust Boris Johnson on this issue?" he asked the audience at a party event in central London. "No!" they chorused. "Can you trust the Conservative Party on this issue?" "No!" they replied.
Farage called the withdrawal agreement as negotiated by May "a betrayal" of the 2016 referendum result, and warned that if Johnson tries to push it through, the Brexit Party would run against his Conservative Party in every constituency.
While they might struggle to win many seats, they could take enough votes away from the Tories to seriously damage them. Farage said his message to Johnson is "deliver or politically die".
Meanwhile, the leaders of UK opposition parties opposed to a no-deal Brexit held a meeting, convened by Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, to discuss what they will do when Parliament returns next week.
Earlier this month, Labour proposed they should call a vote of no-confidence against Johnson's government, with a view to installing Corbyn as a caretaker prime minister, mandated to delay Brexit and call an election. That idea was rejected by both rebel Conservatives and some on the opposition benches. Instead, the statements after Tuesday's meeting focused on finding legislative routes to stopping a no-deal Brexit.
That sets up the prospect of a fight in the House of Commons after Parliament returns from its summer recess next week.