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Merkel, Johnson cautiously optimistic on Brexit deal

August 21, 2019

In talks with German Chancellor Merkel, British PM Johnson reiterated a call to renegotiate the UK's divorce from the EU. Both leaders said they want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but differ on how to achieve it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Berlin
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met in Berlin on Wednesday and discussed a way forward for Britain's exit from the EU.

In his first trip abroad since becoming prime minister in July, Johnson repeated his call for EU leaders to reopen Brexit negotiations in order to avoid the UK leaving the bloc without a deal on October 31. The European Union has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the Brexit agreement it signed with the UK. 

What did they say?

- Merkel said Germany welcomes a negotiated Brexit, but she added that her country is prepared for a no-deal British exit from the EU. 

- Johnson said the UK could not accept the current withdrawal agreement as it either "divides the UK" or "locks" it into EU law. He also said a backstop plan for the Irish border has "grave defects" and that it has to go.

- Merkel said the backstop has always been a "fall-back option" until a better compromise could be reached.

Read more: Brexit: Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel to face off over stalemate

Backstop remains an issue 

The Irish backstop requires both sides to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the latter of which is and will remain a member of the European Union. Johnson has called for the EU to scrap the backstop requirement as it would make Northern Ireland, part of the UK, adhere to rules set by the European Union.

The EU and the Republic of Ireland have refused to drop the arrangement fearing it could lead to a hard border again dividing Ireland and Northern Ireland, reigniting tensions between the North and the South. 

Merkel and Johnson both said that a comprehensive deal on the Irish border would be preferable to the negotiated backstop. 

"We need to remove it and work on the alternative arrangements," said Johnson.

"We were confident we could find a solution in two years, but we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not? Then we are one step further in the right direction," said Merkel.

Johnson said he welcomed the "very blistering" timetable.

"I just want to be absolutely clear with all our German friends and the German government that we in the UK want a deal, we seek a deal, and I believe we can do that," he later added. 

Read more: Northern Ireland: Blast targets police near border

Brexit: Deal or no deal 

After meeting with Merkel, Johnson is scheduled for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday. He will also take part in the G7 summit in France this weekend.

On Wednesday, an unnamed French official said that a no-deal Brexit has become the "most likely" scenario and that Britain would be responsible for paying the withdrawal bill amounting to €43 billion ($47 billion).

Johnson has warned EU leaders that Brexit cannot be stopped by the British Parliament and he has repeatedly emphasized that he will lead Britain out of the EU, with or without a deal in place. Johnson reaffirmed this ahead of the trip with a tweet: "We're going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in."

"Renegotiation of the terms currently proposed by the British is not an option that exists," Macron told reporters in Paris on Wednesday. 

The Brexit deal agreed to under Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times by the British Parliament. 

How do Germans think Brexit will pan out?

wmr/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP) 

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