The French President suggested the EU Withdrawal Agreement could after all be amended to allow the UK to quit the bloc with a deal. The concession saw the Prime Minister raise his hands in the air in apparent triumph on his return to Downing Street from his talks in Paris. Mr Macron, in a seeming shift from his hard-line refusal to consider any renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, conceded an “intelligent” solution to break the deadlock over the Irish border backstop could be found with “goodwill” on both sides.
His unexpectedly positive remarks on welcoming Mr Johnson to the French capital came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel had given the Prime Minister 30 days to come up with workable new proposals for solving the border dilemma.
Mr Macron hinted at negotiation challenges ahead by insisting a guarantee against a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic was “indispensable”.
Nevertheless Mr Johnson received a warmer reception than expected at the French president’s Elysee Palace where he told his host: “Let’s get Brexit done.”
President Macron’s more flexible approach came as the two leaders briefly spoke to broadcasters ahead of talks over lunch.
For the first time, he suggested the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out by former prime minister Theresa May and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier but repeatedly rejected by MPs could be redrafted.
He said: “We will not find a new Withdrawal Agreement within 30 days which will be very different from the existing one. It is just that what Michel Barnier has negotiated can be amended while complying with the integrity of the single market and stability in Ireland – then we can find a solution.”
Boris Johnson won a surprise Brexit boost today from Emmanuel Macron
Boris Johnson punches air in triumph
He also appeared to endorse Chancellor Merkel’s offer of 30 days for the UK to propose an alternative to the backstop mechanism designed to keep the Northern Irish border free of customs checks.
He said: “What Angela Merkel said yesterday and which is very much in line with the discussions we have had from the very beginning is that we need visibility in 30 days.
“I believe that this also matches the goal of Prime Minister Johnson. No one will wait until October 31 to find the right solution.”
President Macron said Mr Barnier could help find a new solution to the backstop row “without totally reshuffling” the Withdrawal Agreement.
“We should all together be able to find something smart within 30 days if there is goodwill on both sides and I believe there is,” he said.
Speaking alongside President Macron, the Prime Minister welcomed the “positive noises” he had received during his two-day trip to Berlin and Paris about a possible deal.
Mr Johnson said: “I want to be clear to you, Emmanuel, to the French people, that of course I want a deal and I think that we can get a deal and a good deal.
“I was powerfully encouraged by our conversations last night in Berlin with our mutual friends and I know that with energy and with creativity and with application we can find a way forward for all our businesses and our citizens.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
“It is vital for trust in politics that if you have a referendum then you should act on the instructions of the voters and that is why we must come out of the EU on October 31, deal or no deal.”
He added: “Let’s get Brexit done, let’s get it done sensibly and pragmatically and in the interests of both sides and let’s not wait until October 31.
“Let’s get on now in deepening and intensifying the friendship and partnership between us.”
Mr Johnson repeated his insistence that the backstop – which could keep the UK indefinitely tied to the EU’s customs union – must be scrapped or the country will leave the bloc on October 31 without a deal. But he insisted “alternative arrangements” to the backstop could be found which would guarantee no checks at the Northern Ireland border.
He said: “When you look at the border with Northern Ireland, under no circumstances will the UK government be instituting, imposing, checks or controls of any kind at that border.
“We think there are ways of protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing the UK to exit from the EU, all and entire and perfect as it were. It was very interesting to hear some of positive noises that we’re now hearing about the ways that can be done. We look forward to developing those thoughts in the next few weeks.”
US President Donald Trump
EU Council President Donald Tusk
Mr Johnson welcomed the response of Chancellor Merkel when they met in Berlin on Wednesday.
He declared: “She said if we can do this in two years then we can do this in 30 days and I admire that ‘can-do’ spirit that she seemed to have and I think she is right.
“I think that the technical solutions are readily available and they have been discussed at great length.
“You can have trusted-trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing for goods moving across the border. I just want to repeat one crucial thing, under no circumstances will the UK be putting checks at the frontier.
“We don’t think it is necessary from the point of view of the EU to do that to protect the integrity of the single market, we think there are other ways of doing that. We have got I think adequate time to do it, let’s get on and do it.”
Mrs Merkel yesterday sought to play down the importance of the 30-day period she had proposed for finding a solution, saying it was merely “an allegory for being able to do it in a short period of time”.
But Mr Johnson is expected to step up his push for a breakthrough on Brexit talks at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, tomorrow with world and EU leaders where he is expected to hold face-to-face talks with US President Donald Trump and EU Council President Donald Tusk.