Boris Johnson’s ‘fantasy’ Brexit demands slapped down by Irish PM in 1-hour call
Boris Johnson's "fantasy" Brexit demands were slapped down last night by the Irish PM in a phone call lasting almost an hour.
Leo Varadkar brushed off the UK Prime Minister's demand to remove the "Northern Ireland backstop" clause from the 585-page Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Johnson officially made the call last night in a four-page letter to European Council President Donald Tusk.
He said if the backstop – which could trap the UK in EU customs rules – is scrapped, MPs might approve a plan for Brexit.
But Downing Street admitted: "Taoiseach [Leo Varadkar] reiterated the EU27 position that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened.
"And [he] emphasised the importance of the legally operable guarantee to ensure no hard border and continued free trade on the island of Ireland."
It leaves Boris Johnson in deadlock a month after he took power and just 72 days before the October 31 Brexit deadline.
He is due to meet Germany's Angela Merkel tomorrow, France's Emannuel Macron on Thursday and Mr Varadkar next month.
But his Brexit wish list, sent to Brussels last night, was condemned as fantasy land by his opponents.
Mr Johnson said the backstop is "anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK" and could weaken the Northern Ireland peace process.
He said it should be removed, to be replaced with "alternative arrangements" by the end of 2020 while Brexit happens in the meantime.
Yet he did not make clear exactly what "alternative arrangements" it should be replaced with.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd said: "Whichever Brexit outcome he pursues, whether it's a disastrous no deal or this fantasyland wishlist, Boris Johnson clearly has no qualms about putting jobs, rights, prosperity or peace in Northern Ireland at risk."
EU diplomats also gave the letter a frosty reception.
One told Politico: “It’s clear from the letter that renegotiation is the last thing the British government wants. Brexit started and ends with preservation of the Tory party.”
Another told the website: "It’s a joke."
In his call with Mr Vardakar, Mr Johnson said free movement between the UK and Ireland will not end in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
That is despite Home Secretary Priti Patel working on a strict end to freedom of movement for other EU citizens – a plan that has prompted warnings of another Windrush.
A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister made clear that the common travel area, which long predates the UK and Ireland joining the EU, would not be affected by the ending of freedom of movement after Brexit."
The common travel area is a special zone combining the Republic of Ireland and the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which dates back to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson spoke for the fourth time in four weeks last night to Donald Trump – who boasted he can move "rapidly" on a post-Brexit free trade deal.
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