France’s pro-EU leader has stressed the Brexit ball is now in the UK’s court. He said, while the bloc does not want a no-deal exit, it would be ready if it happened. “Ultra-Europeans are in distress because Brexit is finally happening. This goes to show that when you push back against threats and blackmail, you can get things done!” Mr Philippot, leader of the far-right The Patriots party, tweeted. “Kudos to Boris Johnson, whose will and resolve have helped the UK get out of the EU,” he added.
Mr Philippot has repeatedly urged France to follow Britain’s lead and hold its own referendum on European Union membership, to no avail.
But more than three years after the UK voted to quit the EU, it is still unclear on what terms the bloc’s second largest economy will leave the club it joined in 1973.
Mr Philippot’s comments came after Mr Johnson met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for Brexit talks, which have stalled over the stubborn problem of Britain’s land border with EU-member Ireland.
Mr Johnson, who has pledged to deliver Brexit no matter what, told the French centrist that he believed it was possible to agree a new deal before the October 31 deadline.
He wants the hotly-contested Irish border backstop to be struck out of the current deal, which the EU has so far refused to renegotiate.
“Let’s get Brexit done, let’s get it done sensibly and pragmatically and in the interests of both sides and let’s not wait until October 31. Let’s get on now in deepening and intensifying the friendship and partnership between us,” he said.
In a rare display of sportsmanship, Mr Macron left the door open to Britain finding a solution to the border backstop, but said any alternative had to respect both the integrity of the EU single market and stability in Ireland.
“I want to be very clear. In the months ahead, we will not find a new withdrawal agreement that deviates far from the original,” Mr Macron, a staunch europhile, said.
He stressed that the ball was now in Mr Johnson’s court, and that while the EU did not want a no-deal scenario to unfold, it would be ready if it happened.
“If we cannot find alternatives, then it will be because of a deeper problem, a political one, a British political problem. And for that, negotiations can’t help. It will be up to the prime minister to make that choice – it won’t be up to us.”
Any new solution to the Irish border problem has to be found in the next month, Mr Macron added.
The Elysée later said the talks had been “constructive” and “thorough”.
After Brexit, the frontier between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland will be the only land border between the bloc and Britain.
The backstop provides for Britain to remain in a temporary customs union with the EU after the divorce, thus avoiding any need for any ‘hard’ border infrastructure until a better solution is found.
Brussels says the backstop is the only way to make sure Ireland does not become a back door for goods to enter the single market; while London argues the provision will tie it to EU laws.
Mr Johnson insisted in Paris that the backstop was not needed, and that there are “ways of protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing the UK to exit from the EU”.
The prime minister is hoping that the threat of a messy no-deal Brexit will convince EU leaders that the bloc should do a last-minute deal to suit his demands.
Brexit supporters say there may be some short-term disruption from a no-deal exit, but that the UK will be better off outside the EU.
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