Boris Johnson presses for Brexit deal in Dublin despite Irish warnings

LONDON, Sept 9 (NNN-AGENCIES) – Under pressure to show progress on a Brexit breakthrough, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has arrived in Ireland to press for a deal to secure Britain’s exit from the EU.

Speaking alongside his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar in Dublin, Mr Johnson reiterated his belief that a Brexit deal could be achieved and restated his commitment that Britain would leave the European Union on the October 31.

“I want to find a deal. I want to get a deal. Like you I have looked carefully at a no deal,” the British Prime Minister said. “Yes, of course, we could do it but be in no doubt that would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible,” he added.

Mr Johnson also reaffirmed Britain’s “unshakeable” commitment to the Good Friday agreement which brought an end to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and said he would ensure unchecked movement on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

We cannot agree to the replacement of a legal guarantee with a promise

Leo Varadkar

For his part, Mr Varadkar welcomed the British prime minister as a “friend and an ally” but said he did not expect an immediate breakthrough on Brexit with the UK. Mr Johnson also stressed that he did not expect to leave Dublin with an agreement on Monday.

The Irish leader said the Brexit deal hammered out by Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May remained the best way of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. “We cannot agree to the replacement of a legal guarantee with a promise,” Mr Varadkar said.

He added that Ireland was open to hearing different arrangements to resolve the thorny issue of the Northern Irish backstop but explained he had not “received a viable alternative”.

The Republic of Ireland, which sits on the opposite side of the UK’s only overland border, is expected to take the brunt of post-Brexit economic disruption outside of Britain.

A renegotiation of the Northern Irish backstop has become the linchpin of Mr Johnson’s stated ambition of securing a deal for Britain to leave the EU. 

The backstop, an insurance policy to keep the Irish border open if there is a no-deal Brexit, has been deeply criticised by Mr Johnson and his hard-line Brexit allies.

At the same time EU leaders have roundly rejected his proposal that the Irish backstop be dropped from the EU withdrawal agreement.

Mr Varadkar shows no inclination towards deviating from the EU script. However, proposals from the London in recent days that would see the creation of an all-Island regulatory regime on the Island of Ireland, with Northern Ireland diverging from the rest of the UK, are expected to be discussed during today’s talks.

Back in London MPs are expected to reject the government’s request for a snap general election for a second time. The anti-no deal alliance that has formed in the House of Commons has insisted a law to block the UK’s no-deal exit must be implemented before Britons can go to the polls.

The bill designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October is expected to be given royal assent today, though Mr Johnson’s government have indicated they may try to undercut the official request to the EU for an extension.

Speaking to the BBC A former Supreme Court justice has said it would not be legal for Boris Johnson to apply for an Article 50 extension while simultaneously trying to get the EU to reject it.

“The Bill, or Act as it’s about to become, says that he’s got to apply for an extension. Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension,” Lord Sumption said. “To send the letter and then try to neutralise it seems to me, plainly, a breach of the Act,” he added.

While Mr Johnson may be legally bound to request the extension, Europe is not obliged to grant it. France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has indicated that with the UK at a clear political impasse, France could veto the UK extension request “We’re not going to do this every three months,” he said on Sunday.

In Dublin Mr Varadkar also reiterated that the EU did not necessarily have to grant the extension and said Brexit had dominated British and Irish politics for too long.