When Theresa May held press conferences with European leaders over Brexit, they were often a painful affair – with her counterpart quick to suggest little progress had been made. This afternoon Boris Johnson opted for an optimistic approach in his first outing on the world stage. The Prime Minister met with Angela Merkel this afternoon in Berlin for talks ahead of the G7 summit this weekend.
In the press conference, Johnson joked that the pair had many things to discuss including the ‘small matter of Brexit’. With figures in Brussels – including EU council leader Donald Tusk – rejecting the demand in Johnson’s letter to ditch the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement, an undeterred Johnson used the press conference to make the same point. Johnson said he was very optimistic the UK and the EU would be able to come to a Brexit deal but in order to do this it was crucial that the backstop was removed entirely. Unsurprisingly, Merkel hummed a different tune. The German chancellor said that she understood there was hostility towards the backstop in the UK but that people ought to remember the backstop was created to solve a problem – that of avoiding a hard border in Ireland. She also suggested that problems with the Brexit deal should be solved through changes to political declaration – something Johnson has ruled out.
In what appeared to be a pointed comment, Merkel said that on the issue of the Irish border: ‘it is not the core task of the German chancellor to understand the relationship between NI and Ireland’. However, there was still some positive news to be found in the meeting. Merkel adopted a less hostile approach to the Prime Minister than Brussels figures like Donald Tusk have. At one point she talked about how it might be possible to find a solution within the next 30 days:
‘If one is able to solve this conundrum, if one finds this solution, we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come. Then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this.’
Johnson was quick to take her up on this offer – suggesting that he would be very happy to try and come to some arrangement in the next month.
Johnson tried to end the Q&A on a positive note. He said:
‘I have watched a lot of European negotiations. It looks at first like it is irresistible force and immovable object. In my experience we find a way through. It’s in the final furlong when the horses change places and the winning deal appears’
Johnson remains the most optimistic when it comes to securing a new Brexit deal before 31st October.