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Boris Johnson tears up Irish backstop in letter to EU after new Brexit clash with Leo Varadkar

In a letter to the EU, Boris Johnson said the backstop was “anti-democratic"
In a letter to the EU, Boris Johnson said the backstop was “anti-democratic"

Boris Johnson has torn up the Northern Irish backstop and demanded new terms for the UK to leave the EU with a deal in 10 weeks’ time.

In a letter to the EU on Monday he said the backstop was “anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK” and it risked “weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement”. 

He said: “The backstop cannot form part of an agreed Withdrawal Agreement. That is a fact that we must both acknowledge.” He proposed replacing the backstop with “flexible and creative” arrangements to manage a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

It came after a one-hour phone call in which the Prime Minister and Leo Varadkar, the Irish premier, clashed over the backstop. 

Mr Johnson heads to Berlin on Wednesday for dinner with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, before lunch in Paris with Emmanuel Macron, the French president, the following day, to persuade them both to agree that the EU should remove the backstop.

The week ends with Mr Johnson’s first appearance on the global stage when he represents Britain at the G7 meeting of world leaders in Biarritz in the south of France.

Mr Johnson has made the removal of the backstop – which will keep the UK in a customs union and the single market after Brexit until a solution is found to prevent a hard border – a central part of his plans to take the UK out of the EU by Oct 31. 

In his letter to Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, he said he could not endorse “full alignment with wide areas of the single market and customs union” after Brexit. “That cannot be the basis for the future relationship and it is not a basis for the sound governance of Northern Ireland.”

He told Mr Tusk both the UK and EU should agree neither side “will put in infrastructure, checks or controls at the border” and said the backstop should be replaced” with “alternative arrangements” north and south to allow the sides to monitor movements of goods and people without a hard border.

The majority of MPs would agree to a deal without the backstop, he said, adding Parliament could act rapidly if it reached “a satisfactory agreement that did not contain the backstop.”

On Monday night the Prime Minister set out in an open letter to Donald Tusk, the European Council president, the Government's detailed concerns about the backstop. 

Monday's call with Mr Varadkar broke up with neither side agreeing a way forward. The pair agreed to meet for further talks in Dublin next month. 

A joint statement from the Irish and UK Governments said the pair had "shared perspectives on the Withdrawal Agreement" during their hour long conversation. 

"The Prime Minister indicated that the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form will not get through the House of Commons, that the backstop would need to be removed, and that an alternative solution is required

"The Taoiseach reiterated the EU27 position that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, and emphasised the importance of the legally operable guarantee to ensure no hard border and continued free trade on the island of Ireland." 

Senator Neale Richmond, EU affairs spokesman for Fine Gael, Ireland's ­ruling party, tweeted: ­"Nothing new, alas."

On Monday night, an unnamed EU diplomat representing a country traditionally friendly to the UK, said: "Hope and imagination don't keep the border away. This letter is not a request to renegotiate - it's an attempt to avoid it at all cost."

The Telegraph understands that the Prime Minister will deliver a dossier setting out the UK's concerns with the backstop in his crucial meetings with Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron. 

The UK and EU had agreed in March that the UK could start a "formal dispute" against the EU, if it tried to keep the UK tied into the backstop indefinitely. 

The two sides also agreed that the EU would undertake joint work to find the technological solutions favoured by Brexit supporters. 

However, the UK is understood now to have different interpretations of what was agreed between the UK and EU in the joint report signed in December 2017, one source said. 

The dossier will set out why this is unacceptable to the UK, expanding on arguments put forward by Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, that it would still leave the UK with "no internationally lawful means" of leaving the backstop without EU agreement. 

The source said that the new document from the UK would" go a bit further in explaining why this Government reinterpret things differently", adding: "All we have done so far is explain that the backstop is anti-democratic." 

On a visit to Cornwall, Mr Johnson declared he "wants a deal" and is "confident" that the European Union will agree to dropping the Northern Ireland backstop. 

He said: "I want a deal. We're ready to work with our friends and partners to get a deal but if you want a good deal for the UK, you must simultaneously get ready to come out without one." 

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has spoken about how Washington and London can move "rapidly" on a post-Brexit free trade deal.

Mr Trump said he had a "great discussion" with Mr Johnson on Monday, tweeting: "We talked about Brexit and how we can move rapidly on a US-UK free trade deal.

"I look forward to meeting with Boris this weekend, at the @G7, in France!"