Boris Johnson tells EU: ditch backstop or face no-deal Brexit

It is a demand that has angered Ireland and perturbed other EU capitals

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during a speech on domestic priorities at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, Britain July 27, 2019. Lorne Campbell/Pool via REUTERS
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday told the European Union that there would be no Brexit divorce deal agreed between Brussels and London if the bloc did not ditch the "anti-democratic" Irish backstop.

Mr Johnson, since taking office on Wednesday, has repeatedly said that if the EU continues to refuse to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by his predecessor Theresa May, then he will take Britain out on Oct. 31 without a deal.

His biggest demand is that the most hotly-contested element of the Brexit divorce agreement, the Irish border backstop, be struck out of the Withdrawal Agreement, a demand that has angered Ireland and perturbed other EU capitals.

"If we get rid of the backstop, whole and entire, then we are making a lot of progress," Mr Johnson said in a speech in Manchester, when asked if it was only the Irish border backstop that he wanted changed.

He was optimistic about pulling Britain from the EU on October 31, calling it a "massive economic opportunity".

He pledged new investment in Leave-voting areas and promised to step up negotiations on post-Brexit trade deals and set up free ports to boost the economy.

"Taking back control doesn't just apply to Westminster regaining sovereignty from the EU, it means our cities and counties and towns becoming more self governing," he said.

"Leaving the EU is a massive economic opportunity to do things we've not been allowed to do for decades," he said.

European leaders are prepared to talk with Britain's new leader over Brexit but have so far insisted they will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. Many EU diplomats think the United Kingdom will hold a snap election soon.

Mr Johnson, who discussed Brexit with US President Donald Trump on Friday, brushed aside those concerns.

"My friends, I do not want a no-deal Brexit, that is not where we're aiming, but we have to face the fact that at the moment we're being told, as we have been told for the last three year 'rien ne va plus' – 'the deal is fixed' – and can't be changed. I doubt that," he said.

Nevertheless, investors fear a no-deal exit would send shock waves through global markets and hurt the world's economy.

Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution.

The backstop is an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of border controls along the 500-km (300-mile) land border between Ireland and Britain's province of Northern Ireland that were ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.