Johnson to EU: abolish backstop or no deal
BRITISH Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that Britain will leave without a deal unless the backstop is "abolished".
During a phone call on Tuesday evening, Johnson told Juncker that nothing short of reopening negotiations and removing the Irish backstop would be good enough for his government to consider signing an exit agreement.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The prime minister set out that the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31, whatever the circumstances, and that we absolutely want to do so with a deal.
"The PM was also clear, however, that unless the Withdrawal Agreement is reopened and the backstop abolished there is no prospect of that deal."
A spokesman for the commission said Juncker used the exchange to repeat his willingness to "work constructively" to look at "concrete proposals he may have, as long as they are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement".
Juncker said the EU was "fully prepared for a no-deal scenario" but added that the bloc would do "everything it can to avoid such a situation".
"A no-deal scenario will only ever be the UK's decision, not the EU's," he told Johnson.
The backstop was a joint arrangement agreed between the UK and the EU in a bid to avoid border checks in Northern Ireland after Brexit. Former PM Theresa May signed Britain up to a number of Brussels rules to ensure an open border until a friction-free solution could be decided.
During the discussion with Juncker, the first the pair have had since July 25, Johnson repeated what he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during his visits to Berlin and Paris last week, declaring that the UK would "never place infrastructure, checks or controls at the border" in Ireland.
The move effectively creates a stand-off between the two parties, with Johnson testing the EU over whether it would demand Irish border checks to protect the integrity of goods in the European single market after the October 31 Brexit deadline.
Juncker told the Conservative Party leader that the EU 27's support for Ireland was "steadfast" and they would "continue to be very attentive to Ireland's interests".
Johnson is set to send his EU "sherpa" - his Europe adviser David Frost - for talks with Brussels officials on Wednesday to discuss the backstop further.
Meanwhile opposition parties said they would try to pass a law which would force Johnson to seek a delay to Britain's departure from the European Union and prevent a potentially chaotic no-deal exit at the end of October.
Parliament returns from its summer break next week and is preparing for a battle with Johnson.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hosted talks with opposition parties on Tuesday where they agreed that passing a law to force the government to seek a delay to Britain's EU departure would probably have the most support.
"We are going to come together and do the right thing by our country," said Anna Soubry, leader of The Independent Group for Change party. "We are up against a prime minister who has no mandate for this and I think he has no regard for parliament."
The opposition parties are seeking to repeat what they did earlier this year when MPs seized control of the parliamentary agenda to pass a law forcing May to seek an extension to Britain's EU membership.
They also managed to change legislation to require parliament to be sitting for several days in September and October, making it harder for Johnson to shut down parliament to pursue a no-deal, something he has not ruled out doing.