Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Birmingham, Britain, July 26 2019. Picture: REUTERS/GEOFF PUGH
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Birmingham, Britain, July 26 2019. Picture: REUTERS/GEOFF PUGH

Paris — European partners warned Boris Johnson on Friday that his hardline Brexit stance was putting the UK on a “collision course” with the EU and called on the new British premier to avoid “provocations”.

Johnson plans for meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the next few weeks, officials said on Friday, as the British prime minister insists he will renegotiate the UK’s divorce accord with the EU.

Macron, who has said he is happy to be considered the “bad guy” in the Brexit negotiations, is set to be a key figure during the tricky and potentially bad-tempered talks in the months ahead.

He extended the invitation to Johnson in a call late on Thursday from his official summer vacation residence in the south of France, where he is expected to stay for the next three weeks, said an aide. But in a sign of wariness about Johnson’s anti-EU rhetoric, France’s Europe minister Amélie de Montchalin urged Britain’s new leader to create a working relationship with his partners on the continent.

“From our side, we need to be responsible,” she told France 2 television. “That means being clear, predictable and it means on the other side that we need to create a working relationship, that there aren’t games, posturing, provocations.”

The timing of the meeting between Macron and Johnson is unclear. The British prime minister is due in France to attend the G7 meeting of developed nations in Biarritz from August 24-26. “In any case, we want to work with him ... and we need to,” Montchalin said.

Macron, a devoted europhile who is seeking to deepen links between EU members, views Brexit as an act of self-harm by Britain and he has been highly critical of Johnson

Ireland’s foreign minister was also quoted as saying on Friday that Johnson has deliberately set Britain on a “collision course” with the EU over Brexit negotiations. “He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the EU and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations,” Simon Coveney was quoted by Irish state broadcaster RTE as saying in Belfast.

In his maiden parliamentary speech as prime minister on Thursday Johnson promised to press ahead with plans to re-open the deal agreed with the EU — despite firm pushback from other EU leaders.

Merkel’s office said Johnson had accepted an invitation from the German Chancellor for “an early visit” to Berlin. No date was given. Merkel “congratulated” Johnson by phone on Friday and “the main topics were Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and deepening of bilateral relations”, said a spokesperson.

‘Combative’ Johnson 

Last year, Macron broke away from his time off to host then British prime minister Theresa May as she sought new concessions in her ultimately doomed bid to bring Britain out of the EU.

In their conversation, Macron congratulated Johnson on becoming prime minister and emphasised his desire for close Franco-British ties, the presidential official said, reflecting his hope for a strong defence and economic relationship post-Brexit. But they largely steered clear of the vexed subject of Britain’s departure from the bloc, the aide added, agreeing that the issue would be discussed in more detail in the next few weeks.

“The purpose of the call was to congratulate the prime minister. They did discuss Brexit,” said Johnson’s spokesperson.

Macron, a devoted europhile who is seeking to deepen links between EU members, views Brexit as an act of self-harm by Britain and he has been highly critical of Johnson personally in the past.

Johnson insists he wants to renegotiate a divorce deal which was drafted by his predecessor May over the past two years, only to see it rejected by British MPs three times in parliament. But the EU has already said it will not re-copen the negotiations on the terms of Britain’s departure.

Johnson has staked his reputation on bringing Britain out of the EU by the current October 31 deadline, meaning that if new negotiations are refused the UK will crash out without a deal in place.

Both Britain and the EU are now set to accelerate preparations for this scenario, which economists say would have major economic repercussions. “No deal will never be the EU’s choice, but we all have to be ready for all scenarios,” theEU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wrote in an e-mail sent to EU ambassadors on Thursday.

Barnier also noted the “combative” tone of Johnson’s first speech as premier in parliament. 

“In this negotiation, if we want to force Boris Johnson’s hand, we need to prepare for no-deal and show that we’re not scared,” a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity on Thursday. “He needs to know that we are ready for a no-deal.”

On Thursday, Johnson told British law makers that the current deal on the table was “unacceptable” and he urged the EU to “rethink” its opposition to renegotiating it.

The former foreign secretary has also threatened to withhold the £39bn divorce bill that Britain has previously said it owes the EU and spend it instead on preparing for a no-deal outcome.

AFP