Senior EU policymakers pour scorn on Johnson backstop claims

Written by Martin Banks on 6 September 2019 in News

Senior EU policymakers have rubbished claims by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that “substantial progress” has been made in resolving the Irish border issue.

Boris Johnson  | Photo credit: Press Association

Johnson has repeatedly said in recent days that new proposals had been put forward on the Irish backstop and that he was “confident” a resolution to the impasse, the biggest single obstacle to Brexit, could be found.

But several EU leaders have lined up to challenge the claims, including Antonio Tajani, former president of the European Parliament and member of the assembly’s Brexit steering group (BSG). Tajani and other BSG members met late on Wednesday night to discuss the latest Brexit crisis.

The Italian EPP member told this website, “This is a UK problem, but I can tell you that it will be impossible to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement or change the backstop. We have had no further concrete proposals on this or anything else from the UK side."


"That is why in the coming days we need to know exactly what Mr Johnson is proposing and what the UK wants to do. This is especially the case if there is going to be an election in the UK.”

Tajani, also a former EU Commissioner, added, “Brexit is a big mistake, both for the UK and EU and I am very much against a no-deal Brexit. That is why we need to work together more than ever to find a solution.”

His comments come after Johnson’s envoy to the EU, David Frost, was in Brussels on Wednesday with a team of UK officials for the latest round of talks with the Commission’s negotiating team.

Arriving for the meeting at the Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the EU “remains vigilant, united and calm.”

“It will be impossible to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement or change the backstop. We have had no further concrete proposals on this or anything else from the UK side” Antonio Tajani, former Parliament President

Another BSG member, the outspoken Belgian Greens MEP Philippe Lamberts, was particularly scornful of claims that “substantial” progress had been made towards resolving the backstop, describing this as “bullshit.”

In a TV interview, he also accused Johnson of “lying” in making such claims, adding, “He is clearly not interested in finding a solution. He just wants a hard Brexit.”

Lamberts, the co-leader of his group, also described the UK Conservative Party as “nationalist”, adding that “it is no better than the Brexit party.” However, he went on to say that, if requested by the UK, he believes that the EU will be minded to grant an extension beyond the current 31 October deadline.

Former UK finance minister Philip Hammond, speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, also said there had been no new negotiations with the EU and that this had been “confirmed by multiple EU sources.”

Further comment came from German Socialist MEP Katarina Barley, who was critical of Johnson describing attempts to block a no deal as a “surrender” to the EU.

Speaking last week the Anglo-German deputy said, “This sort of language is playing with fears and prejudices. I am worried about it because it is disturbing.”

Johnson’s former cabinet colleague, Rory Stewart, tweeted on Wednesday, “The recent EU ‘negotiation’ has been a sham.”

“He [Johnson] is clearly not interested in finding a solution. He just wants a hard Brexit” Philippe Lamberts MEP

The UK government says Westminster will not accept a deal that includes the backstop. Johnson is due to meet the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Monday in Dublin where he will expand on the UK’s approach.

A UK government spokesman conceded, however, that there was yet to be a meeting of minds in the talks with the EU.

Earlier this week UK MPs blocked Johnson's plan for an early election on 15 October. The proposed legislation was passed by MPs on Wednesday, inflicting a defeat on the Prime Minister, his fourth in 24 hours.

The bill says the Prime Minister will have until 19 October to either pass a deal in the UK Parliament or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit - and after that he will have to request an extension to the UK's departure date to 31 January 2020.

Meanwhile, the EU has stepped up its plans for a no-deal Brexit, including making available the EU’s emergency fund for Member States concerned about the possible impact that such a scenario might have on their economies.

On Wednesday, a Commission spokesman told reporters in Brussels, “We are fully ready for a no deal. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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