Boris Johnson is meeting Angela Merkel on Wednesday in what appears to be more of a quest for assigning responsibility for the failure to reach a new consensus on Brexit rather than substantial negotiations.
In a letter to the European Council late on Monday, Johnson called the Irish backstop “anti-democratic” and “inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state,” called for its scrapping; in parallel, he called on the EU to commit along with the UK that no border infrastructure would be raised in Ireland.
In substance, Johnson’s letter did not address the practicalities of how the Single Market was to impose its external tariffs and standards after the UK leaves on October 31st, hinting however that in the absence of the Irish backstop the agreement negotiated with Theresa May could potentially be salvaged.
Johnson has called the Irish backstop “unviable,” insisting on the long-held belief held by pro-Leave legislators of the Conservative party that unspecified technologically “creative” solutions can replace the need for a border, despite the fact that there is no global precedent to that effect.
By Monday evening, the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar called his counterpart to assert the EU red line that neither the backstop nor the agreement concluded with Theresa May are up for renegotiations.
Responding to Johnson’s letter on Tuesday, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk took to Twitter to echo prime minister Varadkar, adding that Johnson’s insistence was in effect an expression of support for a border in Northern Ireland.
“Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it,” Tusk tweeted.
Johnson was forced to admit that the response by the EU to his letter was “a bit negative.” But he consolidated the UK’s uncompromising position by letting it be known that British officials would begin to unwind engagement with EU institutions from September 1st, except those in which the UK has a “significant national interest.”
Meeting Angela Merkel on Wednesday, Boris Johnson is entertaining a long-held conviction of the Leave campaign that it is possible to bypass Brussels to secure a deal with the most powerful nations in Europe. His counterpart has made clear this is not possible.
Ahead of the meeting on Tuesday, the German Chancellor underscored that the backstop was an interim agreement until a practical solution tested and workable is in place. She also reiterated that there would be no change to the withdrawal agreement.
The EU has long held that until such infrastructure is in place, either Northern Ireland or the UK as a whole should remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union. This position is a non-starter for Johnson’s government.
On Thursday, he is expected to meet the more openly critical French President, Emmanuel Macron.
Johnson is to take part in the G7 Summit in Paris on Saturday, with the participation of US President Donald Trump, perhaps the biggest public supporter of a no-deal Brexit. Sending his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, Washington has expressed support for the new British government, promising a speedy trade deal following the UK’s exit. However, the Democrats have made clear that such a trade deal would be unlikely if it was seen to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.