Leading European officials have rebuffed the Brexit policy of Boris Johnson after his first speech to the House of Commons.
Johnson told MPs he was committed to “getting rid” of the Irish border backstop, describing it as “divisive” and “anti-democratic”.
He added: “No country that values its independence and, indeed, its self respect, could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self government as this backstop does.”
After the new prime minister’s appearance, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier sent a note to European leaders, restating the EU’s position that getting rid of the backstop was “of course unacceptable”.
However, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said Barnier’s response “demonstrates the extent to which the EU hierarchy is now discombobulated by the character, enthusiasm and determination of Boris Johnson, which is in such stark contrast to Mrs May and her negotiating team. They simply don’t know how to respond.”
Following a phone call between the two men, a spokesman for European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “President Juncker listened to what Prime Minister Johnson had to say, reiterating the EU’s position that the withdrawal agreement is the best and only agreement possible – in line with the European council guidelines.”
Speaking of Johnson’s telephone call with Juncker, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister said that if an agreement is to be reached it must be understood that the way to a deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop.”
The spokesman added that Johnson warned Juncker that MPs had rejected the Withdrawal Agreement three times, and that it must therefore be renegotiated because it would not pass on a fourth attempt. Johnson and Juncker exchanged mobile numbers.
The Guardian says that Johnson’s remarks on Brexit could be a sideshow for something different. “Many MPs on both sides of the House of Commons believe Johnson’s bid to negotiate a new Brexit deal are merely the prelude to a general election, given the high bar he has set for success and the Tories’ slim majority”.
Reuters said that Johnson “echoed the patriotic rhetoric of US President Donald Trump,” when he said: “Our mission is to deliver Brexit on the 31st of October for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our great United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth.”
A damning view of Johnson’s fledgling premiership has come from a US television anchor. Lawrence O’Donnell, host of the MSNBC network’s The Last Word, said Britain now faces a “level of chaos … not seen since World War II”.