Five things we learned from Boris Johnson’s trips to Berlin and Paris

Boris Johnson has made his first overseas trips as Prime Minister, meeting Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in a bid to secure a Brexit breakthrough.

Here’s what we have learned from the visits to Berlin and Paris:

– A “blistering” new Brexit timetable – or is it?

German Chancellor Mrs Merkel appeared to suggest a 30-day period for the Prime Minister to come up with answers to the problem of the Irish backstop, telling Mr Johnson “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”.

Mr Johnson said it was a “very blistering timetable” but he was “more than happy” with that idea.

But Mrs Merkel later clarified it was merely “an allegory for being able to do it in a short period of time” rather than a strict deadline.

French President Mr Macron warned the Prime Minister that any deal on the table at the end of that period would not be very different from the existing Withdrawal Agreement.

– Despite the meetings, there was little sign of a breakthrough

The fundamental differences over the backstop – the fallback plan to avoid a hard border between the UK and Ireland – still remain.

For Mr Johnson, it has to be removed entirely from the Withdrawal Agreement.

But for Mr Macron its provisions are “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling” but “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market.

Brexit
Prime Minister Boris Johnson with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– Mr Macron insists he is a realist rather than the EU’s Brexit “hard boy”

The Prime Minister will have been braced for the good cop, bad cop double act of the pragmatic Mrs Merkel and the more inflexible French leader.

But Mr Macron said: “I’ve always been presented as the hard boy in the group but it’s just that I have always been clear: a choice was made and we cannot just ignore it.

“We have to implement a decision taken by the British people.”

– The blame game is already well under way ahead of October 31

French officials believe a no-deal Brexit is now the most likely outcome, but Mr Macron was keen to stress that it would not be the fault of the EU.

If a deal was not accepted it would be “a political decision to be taken by the Prime Minister, it’s not our decision”, he said.

Mr Johnson was keen to stress that there was “ample scope” for a deal and “where there’s a will, there’s a way”, implying that any breakdown would be due to a lack of will from Brussels.

– Paris has concerns about Mr Johnson allying with US President Donald Trump after Brexit

Ahead of Mr Johnson’s visits, the US President again praised the Prime Minister and claimed the EU “have not treated the UK very well” and were driving a “tough bargain”.

The Prime Minister will meet the president for the first time since entering Number 10 when he attends the G7 summit in Biarritz on Saturday, with the pair likely to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal.

But on the eve of Mr Johnson’s visit to Paris, Mr Macron warned that the UK would be the “junior partner” in any transatlantic deal, leaving Britain in a position of “historic vassalisation”.

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