LONDON/DUBLIN • Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised yesterday to lead Britain out of the European Union on Oct 31 "no matter what", as Ireland warned that the bloc would not be renegotiating the thrice-defeated divorce deal.
"The Prime Minister made clear that the UK will be leaving the EU on Oct 31, no matter what," Mr Johnson's Downing Street office said in a statement about a phone call with Irish Premier Leo Varadkar.
Mr Johnson demanded again that one of the most hotly contested elements of the Brexit divorce agreement - the Irish border backstop - would have to be struck out if there was to be a deal.
"The Prime Minister made clear that the government will approach any negotiations which take place with determination and energy and in a spirit of friendship, and that his clear preference is to leave the EU with a deal, but it must be one that abolishes the backstop," Downing Street said.
The backstop is a provision in the deal that would require Britain to obey some EU rules if no other way can be found to keep the land border open between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
The EU has repeatedly said the only way to make the contentious backstop provision redundant would be for the United Kingdom to opt to stay in the EU's single market and the Customs union.
Mr Johnson has said the backstop is "undemocratic" because it risks locking the UK into a trading relationship with the EU indefinitely.
Mr Johnson's office warned on Monday that Britain will not start talks with EU leaders over Brexit unless they first agree to his demand to reopen the divorce deal struck by former premier Theresa May.
"The Prime Minister will be happy to sit down with leaders when that position changes, but he's making it clear ... that needs to happen," his spokesman Alison Donnelly said.
But Ireland said yesterday the backstop was necessary because of the positions Britain had taken in earlier talks, and that the EU would not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement. "The Taoiseach (prime minister of Ireland) explained that the EU was united in its view that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be reopened," the Irish government said.
"Alternative arrangements could replace the backstop in the future... but thus far satisfactory options have yet to be identified and demonstrated," it added.
On taking over Downing Street last week, Mr Johnson set up a showdown with the EU by vowing to negotiate a new deal and threatening that, if the bloc refused, he would take Britain out on Oct 31 without a deal to limit economic dislocation.
The British government has dramatically stepped up its planning for a no-deal Brexit, and on Monday, the Prime Minister's Brexit enforcer, Mr Michael Gove, led the first daily meeting of top officials working to get the country ready to leave on time.
More money is being made available for contingency planning, and a mass public information campaign will be launched in the weeks ahead to advise businesses and citizens how to prepare.
Many investors say a no-deal Brexit would send shock waves through the world economy, tip Britain's economy into a recession, roil financial markets and weaken London's position as the pre-eminent international financial centre.
But supporters of Brexit say that while there would be some short-term difficulties, the disruption of a no-deal Brexit has been overplayed, and that in the long term, the UK would thrive if it left the EU.
On Monday, a European Commission spokesman said that while an orderly withdrawal is in everyone's interest, the bloc is well-prepared for a no-deal Brexit.
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