Boris Johnson has hit back at claims he has no interest in agreeing a Brexit withdrawal deal with the EU by saying no-deal will be ‘a failure’.
Speaking during a meeting with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, Mr Johnson said he would ‘overwhelmingly prefer’ to leave the EU with an agreement in place.
As a bill to block the UK leaving the EU with no-deal on 31 October is due to be given royal assent, the prime minister told the press in Dublin: ‘I have one message that I want to land with you today; I want to find a deal, I want to get a deal.’
He also said: ‘No deal would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.’
Ahead of private talks between the pair, Mr Varadkar warned Mr Johnson that if he were to remove the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement it would result in a no-deal Brexit.
He said: ‘In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us. All it does is kick the can down the road for another 14 months; another 14 months of uncertainty for business, another 14 months of uncertainty for people north and south of the border.
‘So that’s not an option that we find attractive at all.’
He also told the PM Ireland ‘will not agree to a replacement of a legal guarantee with a promise’ on the Irish border, to which Mr Johnson responded: ‘I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement.’
Mr Johnson added: ‘Our governments have spent three years masticating over this problem. I think it’s time we had a go at cracking this one ourselves.
‘I won’t say we can do it all today but I do believe a deal can be done by 18 October, so let’s do it together.’
Mr Varadkar warned the PM he had a ‘Herculean task’ ahead of him and said that Ireland is open to alternatives to the Irish backstop arrangement already agreed with the EU – but ‘they must be realistic’.
The prime minister said the British government ‘must get Brexit done’ and come out by 31 October ‘or else I fear that permanent damage will be done in the UK to trust in our democratic system’.
He added: ‘I know Brexit was not a conundrum that Ireland wished for.
‘There are three basic questions we have to answer for the sake of our peace of mind.
‘One – can we ensure that unchecked movement of goods and people, and cattle, continues at the border? I think the answer is yes. The UK will never, ever instigate checks at the border.’
He continued: ‘Two – can we uphold the Belfast agreement? I think the answer is yes. Our commitment to the peace process is unshakable.
‘And three – can we protect the economic unity of the island of Ireland? Again, I think the answer is yes.
‘I think we can achieve these things while allowing the UK to withdraw whole and entire from the EU.’
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