Last week, Boris Johnson made his diplomatic debut as Prime Minister on the international stage engaging in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron, before a G7 summit in Biarritz. The meeting in Biarritz was particularly important as it marked his first meeting with President Trump since taking the top job.
But what does it mean for Brexit and the UK’s future relationship with the EU? Are we closer or further from a no-deal Brexit? Was there any more talk of a future trade deal with the US? We’ve broken down what Boris got up to and what, if anything, it means in the build-up to the Brexit deadline and beyond.
Meeting with Merkel
First up was Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. Though he was received by a hostile crowd of protestors, the meeting was seemingly a success. In a press conference, Chancellor Merkel announced that a backstop alternative could be found in ‘30 days’, though it was up to the UK government to find this solution.
Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister welcomed this position. In his first speech as Prime Minister, he talked of overcoming ‘the doomsters’, and Angela Merkel’s public statement seemed to suggest there is support for his optimistic Brexit stance.
Talks with Macron
Though there was some shock at Merkel’s statement, there was significantly stiffer opposition in Paris. He acknowledged that the UK’s decision was to be respected but that the backstop was ‘indispensable’.
Macron also stated that any newly negotiated Withdrawal Agreement would not be very different from what is already on the table. Naturally, Johnson responded to this with his customary enthusiasm, stating his belief that ‘with energy and creativity’ an answer to the impasse could be found.
The G7 and Trump
Although the build-up to Johnson’s maiden summit in Biarritz was dominated by his earlier trips to the continent, his brief return to the UK saw him retreat from his positive stance. He publicly stated that agreeing a new deal would not be ‘a cinch’ and clashed with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, over which of them would be called ‘Mr No-Deal Brexit’ in the years to come.
At the summit itself, Johnson found a strong ally against the European leaders in President Trump. Trump proclaimed Johnson as the ‘right man’ to ensure the UK left the EU and cited that trade talks between the two were progressing well.
The summit though failed to yield a breakthrough on Brexit though. The Prime Minister said in an interview that the possibility of a new deal being reached was ‘touch and go’, stating that any agreement could not be reached without the help of ‘our EU friends and partners’.
What Does This Mean for Brexit?
Though it is a positive sign that the Prime Minister is talking with his EU counterparts, ultimately, little has changed despite his mini-European tour. Though there was a distinct difference in their public statements about Brexit, both Merkel and Macron had the same underlying message; it was for the UK to sort out their own issues, not the EU.
This sentiment was echoed by Donald Tusk. He, like Merkel and Macron, would prefer the UK to leave the EU with a deal, but is firm that there will not be any major renegotiation and it is for the UK to present any alternative arrangements which must be ‘realistic’ and ‘immediately operational’.
With President Trump however, the story changed again. Trump was again open about his support for Brexit, viewing the EU as an ‘anchor around the ankle’ of the UK. However, Johnson took a tougher position, stating his belief that the US would need to compromise on any trade deal and that President Trump would not be getting it all his own way.
It is worth noting that though there has been no apparent change in the EU’s stance, their leaders did display a willing flexibility to agree a deal of some kind with the UK. This, coupled with the Prime Minister’s eagerness, could provide the basis for progress to be made.
The same can be said for any potential trade deal with the US. There is evident enthusiasm in both parties to reach an agreement, but difficult obstacles to overcome such as the US-China trade war and the sheer complexity of any deal.
But for Boris, it is fast approaching the time to convert the confidence into substantial and pragmatic resolutions.
Robert McConnell, Pinnacle Professional