French president maintains tough EU line on Brexit deadlock

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday as he continued his campaign to negotiate a way around the Brexit obstacle of the Northern Ireland backstop.

But Macron insisted that if a no-deal Brexit occurs, it will not be the fault of the European Union. while also repeating that it was possible for the whole process to be stopped in its tracks by the revocation of Article 50, the piece of legislation that began the Brexit process.

The situation is now deadlocked because of a provision in the agreement reached between the EU and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, which would see Northern Ireland remain temporarily subject to some EU trade rules after the UK’s exit.

Johnson opposes this and says the EU’s refusal to remove the backstop provision increases the likelihood of a no-deal scenario on the current scheduled Brexit date, Oct 31.

If the UK departs the EU with no alternative legislative arrangements, the wide-ranging aftereffects might include food shortages, disruption to medical supply chains, transport and administrative chaos and even civil unrest, according to a leaked government report among other forecasts.

Nonetheless, “It will be the responsibility of the British government, always,” Macron told Johnson. “Firstly, it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50.”

‘New idea’

Johnson’s trip to Paris came the day after his first overseas visit as British prime minister, to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. She too stuck to the consistent EU line of no renegotiations, but did suggest that if Britain could come up with a new idea, she would be willing to listen.

“The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved,” she said. “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?”

“You rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas … and that is what we want to do,” Johnson replied. “You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days-if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.

“I think that if we approach this with sufficient patience and optimism we can get this done and it is in the final furlong generally when the horses change places and the winning deal appears.”

Macron said that while he would be willing to help, Brexit remained a British-created problem which needed a British solution. “We have to help the British deal with this internal democratic crisis but we mustn’t be hostage to it nor export it,” he said.