Johnson told EU is united over Brexit stance as he prepares for Merkel meeting

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The European Union has restated its “single united position” over Brexit as Boris Johnson prepares for talks with the leaders of its most influential nations.

The prime minister is set to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday and French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday in his first overseas trip since entering Number 10.

On Saturday, Johnson will be at the G7 summit, where he will meet other world leaders including US president Donald Trump.

But Brussels insisted Johnson would not be able to undermine the EU’s unity by holding bilateral meetings with the German and French leaders.

European Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said: “The EU27 have had from the outset – and continue to have now – one single, united position on Brexit matters.”

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Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said a no-deal Brexit is much more likely now than it has ever been as a result of Johnson’s approach.

(PA Graphics)

The prime minister has called for the backstop – the contingency measures designed to ensure a soft border with Ireland remains in all circumstances – to be scrapped.

Coveney said: “There is a consequence to the approach that the British Government is taking and that consequence is that they are making a no-deal far more likely.

“There is a reason why Boris Johnson is visiting Berlin today and Paris tomorrow – to try to talk to EU leaders about finding a way forward

“I think he will get a very consistent message from EU leaders that the negotiations over the last two to three years are not going to be abandoned now.”

Speaking on RTE Radio One, Coveney said the Irish would not be “steam-rolled at the end of this because a British prime minister has rolled out new red lines”.

“That’s not a reasonable approach,” he said.

Tory former minister Ed Vaizey suggested Johnson was “just going through the motions” with his Europe trip this week and was “hell-bent on getting no-deal”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have to find a way to get Parliament to agree to a deal and therefore I would give Boris Johnson the credit of at least forcing on Parliament an existential crisis by being faced with a Prime Minister who is hell-bent on getting no-deal.”

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said he hoped European leaders “will come to the table because it’s in our mutual interest” to make the changes necessary to reach a deal before the UK leaves on October 31, with or without an agreement.

The communities secretary told Today: “I think the EU would be ill-advised to under-estimate our determination to do so or the degree of preparedness that we are undertaking at the moment.”

Johnson has reiterated his opposition to the Northern Irish backstop, saying he will not support any withdrawal agreement that includes it.

In an interview with ITV News, Johnson said he believes there are “plenty of other creative solutions” to the Northern Irish backstop.

He added: “I think it’s a bit paradoxical that the EU side is talking about us putting up all the barriers. We’ve made it clear 1,000 times we don’t want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all, under no circumstances – let me repeat again – under no circumstances will the Government of the United Kingdom be putting checks on the Northern Irish frontier.

How the UK’s border is currently managed
(PA Graphics)

“By contrast, it is the EU who currently claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market require them to have such checks – I don’t think that’s true.

“I’m going to go of course and see if I can explore those ideas with our friends in Germany and France and at the G7 – let’s see where we get to.

“It may be that for now, they stick with the mantra, rien ne va plus, and they can’t change a jot or a tittle of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

On Tuesday, Trump said the EU was driving a “tough bargain” with the UK and that Johnson was the “right person in charge”.

He added: “Dealing with the UK, they have not treated the UK very well. That’s a very tough bargain they’re driving, the European Union. That’s a very tough bargain.

“And I think that UK has the right man in charge right now — the right person in charge, in the form of Boris.”

The Government is ramping up its preparations for no-deal with chancellor Sajid Javid announcing an auto-enrolment scheme to help businesses prepare for post-Brexit trade with the EU.

HM Revenue and Customs will begin automatically enrolling businesses in a customs ID-system in an attempt to double the number which are currently registered.

More than 88,000 VAT-registered companies across the UK will be allocated an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number in the next two weeks in order to keep trading with customers and suppliers in the EU once the UK has left the EU.

Labour described it as a “panicked announcement”, while the Liberal Democrats said the Government was “flailing from one crisis to the next”.

The Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government has also announced a £9m fund to help councils in areas with key ports to make sure they have the personnel needed to deal with any disruption at terminals.

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