EU isolates Boris Johnson as he flies to Berlin for Brexit talks

EU closes ranks and isolates Boris Johnson as he flies into Berlin for crunch Brexit talks with Angela Merkel and Dublin insists it will not be ‘steam-rolled’ by the PM over his backstop demands

  • Boris Johnson to deliver hardline negotiating demands to Angela Merkel in Berlin
  • PM to demand the backstop be deleted and insist UK is serious about No Deal 
  • Ms Merkel expected to rebuff PM as her allies say the border protocol must stay
  • Mr Johnson has vowed to approach talks with Ms Merkel with ‘a lot of oomph’
  • But a letter from the PM to Donald Tusk sparked a furious backlash in Brussels
  • European Council president said Mr Johnson’s Brexit demands were unrealistic
  • After Berlin, Mr Johnson due in Paris tomorrow for talks with Emmanuel Macron
  • PM tries to set tone for the meetings by tweeting patriotic Brexit-themed video
  • He recommitted to ‘do or die’ pledge with promise to make UK ‘best in the world’
  • Meanwhile, Dublin insists it will not be ‘steam-rolled’ by the UK over backstop 

The European Union closed ranks and isolated Boris Johnson today as the PM travelled to Germany for crunch Brexit talks with Angela Merkel.

Mr Johnson will meet the German chancellor for a working dinner this evening when he is expected to tell her he is serious about the UK leaving the EU on October 31 with or without a deal.

He will then meet with Emmanuel Macron tomorrow lunchtime. 

But Berlin, Paris and Brussels all preemptively ruled out shifting on the key issue of the backstop which Mr Johnson insists must be deleted for a deal to be done.

Allies of Ms Merkel said deleting the backstop would be ‘completely impossible’ while a French presidential aide said Mr Macron was now working off the belief that No Deal is the ‘most likely’ scenario.

Meanwhile, Dublin said it would not be ‘steam-rolled’ over the Irish border protocol as Britain and the bloc dug in and a chaotic split on Halloween became even more of a possibility.

Downing Street had cautioned against the idea that talks with Ms Merkel and Mr Macron would lead to a big breakthrough.

But the way in which Mr Johnson’s demands have been responded to are likely to cause alarm in Number 10 with no one on the continent willing to entertain the prospect of renegotiating the terms of the UK’s divorce.

A European Commission spokesman summed up the bloc’s unity over Brexit as she said today: ‘The EU27 have had from the outset – and continue to have now – one single, united position on Brexit matters.

It came after Mr Johnson had tried to set the tone for the meetings by tweeting a patriotic video in which he stressed the importance of sticking to the October 31 date. 

Boris Johnson, pictured leaving Downing Street this morning, will this evening tell Angela Merkel in Berlin that he is serious about the UK leaving the EU with or without a deal on October 31

Ms Merkel, the German chancellor, (pictured in Iceland yesterday) is expected to rebuff Mr Johnson’s calls and insist the existing divorce deal cannot be changed

A French presidential aide today rejected Mr Johnson’s demand that the backstop be axed and contradicted the PM’s claim that if Britain leaves the EU without a deal it would not have to pay a £39 billion divorce bill.

‘The scenario that is becoming the most likely is one of No Deal,’ the official said.

‘The idea of saying ‘there’s not a deal, so I won’t pay’ does not work. We cannot imagine that a country like the UK would back out of an international commitment.’

The official added: ‘There’s no magic wand that makes this bill disappear.’

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign affairs minister, said that while no one wanted to see the relationship between Ireland and the UK deteriorate, Dublin would not be dictated to.

He said: ‘We are not in the business of being steam-rolled at the end of this because a British prime minister has rolled out new red lines. That’s not a reasonable approach.

‘We are trying to manage relationships in a way that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.

‘Ireland is a confident young country that expect to negotiate on an equal basis.

‘If we didn’t have the backstop we wouldn’t have answers to how we solve the border challenge.

‘The Withdrawal Agreement has a facilitation in it for multiple review mechanisms.’

Mr Johnson today recommitted to his ‘do or die’ Brexit pledge and promised to make Britain the best country in the world as he prepared for his showdown with Ms Merkel.   

He tweeted a video this morning of his first speech on the steps of Downing Street cut with footage of the Red Arrows, the Union flag and the White Cliffs of Dover along with a hardline message that he will not agree to another Brexit delay. 

Mr Johnson sought to send a message to the EU this morning as he recommitted to his pledge to take the UK out of the bloc with or without a deal by the Halloween deadline

Mr Johnson has demanded the backstop be deleted from the Brexit deal. He will deliver his demand in person to Angela Merkel today as he flies to Berlin for talks. The timing and content of the video he tweeted this morning, including footage of the Red Arrows, will be carefully noted on the continent.

He tweeted: ‘We’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in.’

Mr Johnson set out his stall earlier this week with an uncompromising letter to the EU in which he said the border protocol must be scrapped for there to be any hope of a deal being done. 

The letter, sent to European Council president Donald Tusk, sparked a furious reaction from Brussels yesterday as the bloc doubled down on its insistence that the existing divorce deal cannot be changed. 

Boris delivers huge poll boost for Tories

Boris Johnson’s election as leader of the Conservatives has delivered a massive opinion poll boost to the Tories while support for Labour and the Brexit Party has gone backwards, new data suggests. 

A survey conducted by KantarTNS between August 15 and 19 puts the Tories on 42 per cent – 17 points higher than the company’s last poll in May. 

Meanwhile, Labour is on 28 per cent – six points lower than in May – while the Brexit Party is on just five per cent – five points lower than the last poll. 

The Liberal Democrats remain stuck on 15 per cent with the election of Jo Swinson as leader last month seemingly having done nothing to boost the party’s fortunes. 

The latest poll and 14 point lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will be welcomed by Downing Street as evidence that Mr Johnson’s hardline Brexit stance has been paying off since he took office at the end of July. 

The 42 per cent rating for the Tories sees the party return to the kind of support levels the party last saw at the 2017 general election. 

Under Theresa May’s leadership the Conservatives secured 42.4 per cent of the vote at the snap poll. 

But even that was not enough to save her Commons majority as Labour managed to secure an unexpected 40 per cent of the vote and the nation returned a hung parliament. 

If the latest poll numbers were to be repeated at a snap general election in the coming weeks, Mr Johnson could secure a Tory majority of 192 seats, based on modelling by the Electoral Calculus website.    

The kind of reception Mr Johnson is likely to receive in Berlin was illustrated by Florian Hahn, European policy spokesman for Ms Merkel’s party, who told The Times: ‘There cannot and will not be new negotiations. 

‘It is completely impossible that the backstop will be removed from the agreement or softened. 

‘The only possible offer would be to agree more precise language for the political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit. But I fear this won’t be enough for Boris Johnson.’  

Norbert Röttgen, another ally of Ms Merkel who is in charge of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, echoed a similar sentiment in comments reported by The Guardian. 

He said: ‘The letter to the president of the European Council is not a serious offer, and Boris Johnson knows it.’ 

He added: ‘If Johnson really wanted to achieve something on his visits to Paris and Berlin, he would have been well advised against writing this letter.’

Meanwhile, a senior German official, asked by Politico what Ms Merkel would offer Mr Johnson on Brexit, replied: ‘Nothing.’ 

Mr Johnson said yesterday he would enter talks with Ms Merkel and Mr Macron ‘with a lot of oomph’ but both sides are refusing to budge and are locked in a state of stalemate. 

Allies of Mr Johnson believe his tough message that there will be a No Deal split unless the EU agrees to drop the backstop has hit home hard in Brussels. 

But many in the EU remain sceptical about whether Mr Johnson would actually go ahead with a bad break given the risk of it causing severe economic damage. 

With just 71 days until the Halloween deadline there is yet to be any movement at all from Brussels, setting up a potentially fraught eleventh hour dash to avoid a chaotic divorce in the run up to October 31. 

Speaking to reporters yesterday Mr Johnson reiterated his opposition to the backstop which is designed to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event the EU and UK cannot agree a future trading relationship.

 He said: ‘Don’t forget why we’re doing all of this. The existing agreement just doesn’t work for the UK. And Parliament has thrown it out three times.

‘We can’t have this backstop. So I’m going to go to see our friends and partners – I’m going off to Germany and then to France, and then to see the G7 at Biarritz, and I’m going to make the point that the backstop is going to come out.’

Mr Johnson’s trip to Berlin and then Paris has been designed to try to stop Brexit overshadowing the G7 summit which taking place this weekend.

In his letter to Mr Tusk, Mr Johnson said the backstop should be removed from the divorce deal ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline.

But Mr Tusk defended the measure and warned that scrapping it risked a return to a hard border. 

Downing Street said that unless the backstop is abolished ‘there is no prospect of a deal’ being done between the two sides.  

Mr Tusk suggested Number 10 was being unrealistic and accused Mr Johnson of dishonesty.

He said: ‘The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found.

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

A letter sent by Mr Johnson to Donald Tusk outlining his hardline negotiating position went down badly with the EU. Mr Tusk looked very relaxed yesterday despite the Brexit countdown after posting a picture on Instagram of him sitting on a hammock while looking after a baby and a dog

Responding, Mr Johnson said: ‘We think there is a big opportunity now for everybody to come together, take out that backstop.’

He added: ‘We will be looking at all the ways in which we can maintain frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border – whether it’s trusted trader schemes, or electronic pre-clearing, or whatever it happens to be, all that kind of thing, checks away from the border, points of sale or whatever if you have to crack down on smuggling, all that kind of thing – but we will come up with those solutions, or agree those solutions I should say, in the context of the free-trade agreement.

‘That’s the way we are going to approach it. And you know what, at the moment it is absolutely true that our friends and partners are a bit negative.

‘I saw what Donald Tusk had to say and it wasn’t redolent of a sense of optimism. But I think actually we will get there.’

Mr Johnson is adamant that alternative arrangements can be found to allow the backstop to be deleted and give the deal a fighting chance of being agreed by MPs.   

Mr Tusk responded on Twitter to Mr Johnson and suggested the British Prime Minister was being unrealistic in his asks

The backstop was included in Theresa May’s original Brexit deal as a last resort measure to be used in the event no overall trade deal has been struck by the two sides by the end of a transition period. 

It would effectively see existing EU rules on customs kept in place to ensure frictionless trade on the island of Ireland could continue and prevent the return of a hard border.

But Brexiteers hate it because if implemented it would last indefinitely, restrict the UK’s ability to strike its own trade deal and getting out of it would require the agreement of both sides.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly labelled the protocol ‘anti-democratic’ since he won the keys to Downing Street last month.

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