Boris Johnson’s bid to renegotiate Brexit starts on Irish border

Bloomberg August 20 | Updated on August 20, 2019 Published on August 20, 2019

Says UK won’t put border up if the EU promises the same

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made his first public attempt to renegotiate the Brexit deal by telling the European Union he wants to explore different ways to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, Johnson said he wants to replace the so-called backstop provision in the divorce agreement with a “legally binding commitment” not to build infrastructure or carry out checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — the UK’s new frontier with the EU — as long as the bloc promises the same.

Johnson also talked to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for almost an hour on Monday, and agreed to meet him in Dublin next month. But in an indication the impasse is likely to continue, Varadkar reiterated that the EU won’t reopen the Brexit deal or ditch the backstop.

The most contentious part of the Brexit deal agreed between Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and the 27 other EU governments in November, the backstop would keep the UK following EU customs and many other trading rules indefinitely unless it’s superseded by a trade agreement that removes the need for controls or checks along the Irish border. The EU has said it’s needed as a permanent guarantee and isn’t up for negotiation.

Johnson said both sides must look at other ways to keep the border free of checks and wants a commitment “to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period,” which could be as early as the end of 2020. A transition will only apply if the UK leaves with a deal.

But Johnson didn’t set out what the arrangements should be, and acknowledged there “will need to be a degree of confidence” about what would happen if they were not “fully in place” at the end of the transition period. That suggests he is prepared to replace the backstop with a different guarantee.

Johnson made the removal of the backstop from the Brexit deal, which was not approved by the British Parliament, his key pledge on becoming the Prime Minister last month. He’s repeatedly said that if the EU doesn’t comply, the UK will leave the bloc on October 31 without a deal. If he succeeds, it might still not be enough for some hardline Brexiteers.

Published on August 20, 2019
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