Boris Johnson says trade deal can break Brexit deadlock

An Anti Brexit protester holds a placard that says 'Don't Brexit Fix it' during the No to Boris, Yes to EU March in London, Britain, 20 July 2019.

Boris Johnson, favored to become Britain’s new prime minister, said on Sunday (21 July) the country could agree a free trade deal to leave the EU that would remove the need for one of the more problematic parts of a previous agreement.

In his weekly column in The Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said technology could avoid having to stick to the so-called Northern Irish backstop, a part of an agreement with the EU that many lawmakers in Britain’s parliament reject.

The backstop, an insurance policy to ensure there will be no return to a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, has become one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the lengthy Brexit talks.

Johnson and his rival to become prime minister, Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, have said the backstop needs to be removed from an agreement Prime Minister Theresa May secured with the EU – something, so far, neither side has agreed on a way to do.

Johnson is widely expected to have easily beaten Hunt, when the result of a ballot of members of the ruling Conservative Party for their next leader to replace May is announced on Tuesday.

Evoking what he called the “can do” spirit of the 1960s when the United States put a man on the moon, Johnson criticized those he called “technological pessimists” for doubting there were solutions to have checks on goods away from the border.

“There is abundant scope to find the solutions necessary – and they can and will be found, in the context of the Free Trade Agreement that we will negotiate with the EU … after we have left on October 31,” he wrote in his column.

“We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so. What we need now is the will and the drive.”

Irish warning

Earlier on Sunday, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney repeated that the EU would not change the divorce deal, or Withdrawal Agreement, which contains the backstop, saying if Britain tore it up, “we would both be in trouble”.

Repeating a warning to the new prime minister, likely to be Boris Johnson, that the bloc will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, Coveney said there would be an opportunity to get rid of the so-called Northern Irish backstop through the future relationship.

“If a new British prime minister decides they want to change the future relationship ambition between the UK and the EU, then certainly we hope that the backstop that many in the UK don’t seem to like can be avoided,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“We are simply not going to move away from that withdrawal agreement.”

However, Coveney said the EU would be willing to change parts of the political declaration, or agreement on a future relationship with Britain.

Ahead of Boris Johnson’s likely election as Britain’s prime minister, EU countries are reportedly secretly wooing him in a bid to thrash out a new Brexit plan that would avoid a no-deal disaster, the Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Senior Irish politicians and diplomats have held talks with two of Johnson’s cabinet allies in recent days, it said. German and French figures as well as the Dutch and Belgian governments have also established contact with Johnson’s team and signaled an intention to do a deal, it added.

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