France warns 'no deal' Brexit becoming 'most likely'

AFP , Wednesday 21 Aug 2019

A no-deal Brexit is becoming the most likely scenario for Britain's departure from the European Union, a French presidential aide said Wednesday, a day before Boris Johnson visits Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected Johnson's demand that the so-called "backstop" mechanism to avoid border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland be scrapped.

And he also contradicted Johnson's claim that if Britain leaves the EU without a deal it would not have to pay a £39 billion ($47 billion, 43 billion euro) divorce bill that has already been negotiated.

"The (German) chancellor has said it and we are saying it, the scenario that is becoming the most likely is one of 'no deal'," the official said ahead of the first meeting between Macron and Johnson since the British premier took office a month ago.

"It's one of 'no deal' because a deal implies a few things, including the famous backstop."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who coordinates closely with French leader Macron on European matters, was hosting Johnson on Wednesday in Berlin ahead of his trip to Paris on Thursday.

The French official said that a letter sent by Johnson to EU Council President Donald Tusk on Monday asking for what he called the "anti-democratic" backstop to be withdrawn posed a problem for the whole EU.

The backstop is a mechanism to avoid border checks between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, part of the UK, with checkpoints there removed as part of a 1998 peace deal on the divided island.

"If you don't have a backstop, you don't have any assurance that there won't be a border in Ireland one day," he added. "It's an essential element for a deal."

The official rubbished claims from Johnson made during his campaign to become prime minister and in his first speech as leader that Britain would not have to pay any money to the EU if it left without a deal.

"The idea of saying 'there's not a deal, so I won't pay' does not work," the official said. "We cannot imagine that a country like the UK would back out of an international commitment."

The official added: "There's no magic wand that makes this bill disappear."

He also said that France did not expect Johnson to seek an extension to the current deadline for Brexit, which falls on October 31, but the EU would be ready to grant one in case there were new elections called.

And he dismissed any notion that there were differences between Macron and Merkel on the issue of Brexit, which he said would cause economic harm to the EU and Britain, but mostly for Britain.

"There is not the width of cigarette paper between Paris and Berlin on these issues," he said.

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