Johnson tells EU he wants Brexit deal but without backstop

In the letter British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed that his government wanted to achieve a divorce deal with Brussels.
In the letter British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed that his government wanted to achieve a divorce deal with Brussels.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS/LONDON (REUTERS/AFP) - European Council President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday (Aug 19) that a letter sent to him by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson included no “realistic alternatives” to the contentious Irish backstop.

“The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found,”Tusk said in a Tweet, responding to a Johnson letter on Monday proposing that the European Union agrees to drop the backstop.

“Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it.”

Johnson had written Monday (Aug 19) to EU President Donald Tusk reaffirming his desire to conclude a Brexit deal as well as his opposition to the controversial "backstop" on Ireland.

The European Union executive said the backstop option was the only means identified by both London and the bloc to avoid a return to extensive border checks on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

“The letter does not provide a legal operational solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland,” European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told a news briefing. “Our position on the backstop is well known... (It) is the only means identified so far by both parties to honour this commitment.”

The so-called backstop is a mechanism that would keep the UK in EU customs arrangements to prevent a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

In the letter Johnson stressed that his government wanted to achieve a divorce deal with Brussels.

"You have my personal commitment that this government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority," Johnson wrote.

Brussels says the backstop is needed as a fallback option to preserve the integrity of European trade and avoid risking a return of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

The backstop was included in the accord reached with the European Union by former premier Theresa May, which was rejected thrice by the British parliament.

Johnson, who succeeded May in July, has said he's ready to leave the EU at the new scheduled exit date of October 31, with or without an accord.

 
 
 

But he also reiterated his view that the Irish backstop plan was "anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state." In addition, keeping the UK in the customs union would prevent London from establishing a trade policy independent of EU rules, he said.

The EU has repeatedly stated that it was not ready to renegotiate the Brexit deal it had reached with May.

Johnson will seek support for his vision for Brexit in key European capitals, travelling Wednesday to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and Thursday to Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron, ahead of the G7 summit in Biarritz at the end of the week.