Macron tells Johnson: EU will not axe the backstop

Emmanuel Macron has dashed Boris Johnson’s hopes of negotiating a new Brexit deal, warning that any possible agreement would look similar to the existing one struck by his predecessor.

The French President agreed to Angela Merkel’s 30-day challenge, but gave little hope that, within such a tight timescale, it would be possible to produce a new withdrawal agreement “very different from the existing one”.Boris Johnson, however, continued to express a can-do spirit, saying he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his conversation the night before with the German Chancellor.

British officials will stop attending most EU meetings from September, the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, has said, suggesting his department would slash attendance by more than half to “unshackle” officials and ministers.

“Let’s get Brexit done,” declared the Prime Minister. “Let’s get it done sensibly and pragmatically and in the interests of both sides and let’s not wait until October 31. Let’s get on now in deepening and intensifying the friendship and partnership between us.”

Amid a good deal of bonhomie at the Elysee Palace, Mr Johnson was adamant that Britain wanted a Brexit deal and believed that with “energy, creativity and application we can find a way forward”.But Mr Macron, who the day before warned a no-deal outcome would lead to the “historic vassalisation of Britain” under America’s control, firmly rebutted any notion that the EU was about to cave in to the UK’S demands.

At a brief joint news conference in Paris, the President noted that while he had been portrayed as the EU’S “hard boy”, he was simply being clear about where he stood on protecting and strengthening the European project.He explained: “The key elements of this agreement, including the Irish backstop, are not just technical constraints or legal quibbling, but indeed genuine, indispensable guarantees to preserve stability in Ireland [and] to preserve the integrity of the single market which is the foundation of the European project.”

Mr Macron said that “we need visibility in 30 days”, but equally pointed out that it would not be possible to find a new withdrawal agreement “very different from the existing one” within this timescale.However, Mrs Merkel clarified her remarks about her “blistering timetable,” saying: “It is not about 30 days. The 30 days were meant as an example to highlight the fact that we need to achieve it in a short time.”

The withdrawal agreement already includes provisions for alternative arrangements such as the ones spelled out by Mr Johnson to surpass the backstop if they are ready at the end of the transition period. However such systems do not yet exist to the extent required by both side’s red lines.

Some of Mr Macron’s remarks encouraged the more optimistic British diplomats, particularly when the President noted: “We should all together be able to find something smart within 30 days if there is goodwill on both sides,” adding that the withdrawal agreement “can be amended” if the changes complied with his two goals of maintaining the integrity of the single market and the stability of Ireland.

The PM told his host that securing such changes, which met his two tests, was indeed possible, but noted that, while he wanted a new agreement, the UK “must come out of the EU on October 31; deal or no deal”.Mr Johnson again made clear the UK “under no circumstances” would introduce a hard border with the Irish Republic.

“We think there are ways of protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing the UK to exit from the EU, all and entire and perfect as it were,” Mr Johnson argued, referring to alternative arrangements like trusted trade schemes and electronic pre-clearing of Johnson ended the press conference, declaring: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The two leaders joked with each other in front of the TV cameras before they headed in for lunch to talk Brexit.For two hours they chatted, a conversation that took in a walk through the Elysee’s palatial gardens. Mr Johnson later emerged smiling and waving as he got into his Range Rover, adorned with Union flags, to return home.

The subject of Brexit will be on the agenda in just 24 hours’ time when Mr Macron and his guest travel to Biarritz for the G7 summit. But other matters such as global trade, climate change, Russia’s readmission, as well as the foreign policy issues of Iran, Yemen and Hong Kong, are likely to dominate the talks.

The bonhomie is likely to continue as Mr Johnson has his first meeting with Donald Trump as Prime Minister. The US President has sung the praises of the PM, whom he has described as “Britain Trump”.It has been suggested that, to underscore his admiration for Mr Johnson, he will see him first before meeting his host, Mr Macron. The expectation is that both men will wax lyrical about the prospect of a post-brexit trade deal.Their glad-handing pictures are set to dominate the weekend news coverage – in Britain, at least.

Mr Macron warned the prime minister that the withdrawal agreement and its included Irish backstop were “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling” but in fact “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market.