European partners on Friday warned Boris Johnson that his hardline Brexit stance was putting the UK on a “collision course” with the European Union (EU) and called on the new British premier to avoid “provocations.”
Johnson told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that the only way to reach a deal on Brexit is to abolish the so-called Irish backstop, a spokesman for Johnson said in a statement.
“He reiterated the message he delivered in the House of Commons yesterday: Parliament has rejected the Withdrawal Agreement three times and so the UK must fully prepare for the alternative – which is to leave without a deal on Oct.31,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“He said the only solution that would allow us to make progress on a deal is to abolish the backstop. The PM and Chancellor agreed to stay in contact.”
Johnson plans for more meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel in the next few weeks, officials said on Friday, as the British premier insists he will renegotiate the UK’s divorce accord with the EU.
Macron, who has said he is happy to be considered the “bad guy” in the Brexit negotiations, is set to be a key figure during the tricky and potentially bad-tempered talks in the months ahead.
He extended the invitation to Johnson in a call late Thursday from his official summer vacation residence in the south of France, where he is expected to stay for the next three weeks, said an aide.
But in a sign of wariness about Johnson’s anti-EU rhetoric, France’s Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin urged Britain’s new leader to create a working relationship with his partners on the continent.
“From our side, we need to be responsible,” she told France 2 television.
“That means being clear, predictable and it means on the other side that we need to create a working relationship, that there aren’t games, posturing, provocations.”
The timing of the meeting between Macron and Johnson was unclear.
The British prime minister is due in France to attend the G7 meeting of developed nations in Biarritz on Aug.24-26.
“In any case, we want to work with him and we need to,” Montchalin said.
Ireland’s foreign minister was also quoted as saying on Friday that Johnson has deliberately set Britain on a “collision course” with the EU over Brexit negotiations.
“He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations,” Simon Coveney was quoted by Irish state broadcaster RTE as saying in Belfast.
Merkel’s office said Johnson had accepted an invitation from the 65-year-old German Chancellor for “an early visit” to Berlin. No date was given.
Merkel “congratulated” Johnson by phone on Friday and “the main topics were Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and deepening of bilateral relations,” said a spokeswoman.
In their conversation, Macron congratulated Johnson on becoming prime minister and emphasised his desire for close Franco-British ties, the presidential official said, reflecting his hope for a strong defence and economic relationship post-Brexit.
But they largely steered clear of the vexed subject of Britain’s departure from the bloc, the aide added, agreeing that the issue would be discussed in more detail in the next few weeks.
“The purpose of the call was to congratulate the prime minister. They did discuss Brexit,” said Johnson’s spokesman.
“No deal will never be the EU’s choice, but we all have to be ready for all scenarios,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, wrote in an email sent to EU ambassadors on Thursday.
Barnier also noted the “combative” tone of Johnson’s first speech as premier in parliament.
“In this negotiation, if we want to force Boris Johnson’s hand, we need to prepare for no-deal and show that we’re not scared,” a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity on Thursday. “He needs to know that we are ready for a no-deal.”
Johnson on Thursday told British lawmakers that the current deal on the table was “unacceptable” and he urged the EU to “rethink” its opposition to renegotiating it.