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Merkel, Johnson Maintain Stances on Brexit, but Say Exit Accord Possible

BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson maintained on Wednesday their respective stances on Brexit, but said that they believe that an exit accord can be reached in the end.

The differences between the two leaders mainly revolve around the safeguard – or “backstop” – for Ireland, which would obligate the United Kingdom to remain part of the European customs union although it would not define future relations with the European Union after Britain’s exit from the bloc.

“The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved and one knows how one wants to do that,” Merkel said before she discussed the matter with Johnson in Berlin

“It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?” she added.

Keeping the backstop, which Johnson wants excluded from the Brexit arrangement negotiated between the EU and former British Prime Minister Theresa May, would mean that Britain would have to continue to follow certain EU rules if there were no other way to ensure that the land border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member, invisible.

The Irish government says that maintaining the backstop is a crucial element of any British exit from the EU.

Johnson, meanwhile, told Merkel that he wants a speedy negotiated Brexit deal that does not include the backstop – calling it “undemocratic” – so that the UK can leave the EU with some kind of deal prior to the Oct. 31 deadline.

“We do need that backstop removed,” said Johnson. “But if we can do that then I’m absolutely certain we can move forward together.”

Despite their conflicting stances, Johnson was optimistic that a mutually agreeable solution could be found, noting that often negotiations with Europe have seemed to have no way out but ultimately an accord has been reached.

He likened the situation to a horse race, saying that everything often comes down to the final leg of the race when a solution is actually achieved.

Merkel said that she wanted Britain to set forth its proposal on the backstop issue.

“We will first listen to Britain’s proposals. Our goal is to preserve the integrity of the single market,” she said, going on to express optimism by adding “And just as we managed to discuss and solve issues with imagination within the European Union, I believe that you can also find ways here and this will be the task.”

“And to that extent, I would say from the German side, and this is what we’ll be talking about today, that we would welcome a negotiated exit from the EU, of course, but we have repeatedly said that we are also prepared if such a negotiated exit should not come to fruition,” the German leader added.

Johnson assured Merkel and the public that London will respect the rights of European citizens living in the UK.

He also tried to set a relaxed tone in the joint news conference, recounting the many spheres in which Germany and the UK have worked together successfully – from security to biodiversity – and emphasizing that all that will be part of the agenda of his visit and seeming to minimize the Brexit issue.

The two leaders were slated to hold a working dinner to discuss the matter.

“We have to maintain the integrity of the single market,” Merkel said.


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