Britain is “ready and willing” to do a deal to leave the European Union if Brussels renegotiates the agreement, a senior government source said on Tuesday, denying that a no-deal Brexit was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s central plan.
Johnson, who took over as prime minister two weeks ago, has taken a hard line with the EU, demanding that it show a willingness to change the deal it agreed with his predecessor before negotiations can restart to secure Britain’s smooth departure from the bloc.
His insistence that Britain is boosting preparations to leave without a divorce agreement if Brussels refuses to renegotiate has spooked markets, sent the pound tumbling and prompted some lawmakers to suspect a no-deal Brexit is his ultimate goal.
A report in The Guardian newspaper cited EU diplomats as saying they believed a no-deal Brexit was the “UK government’s central scenario”.
The government source said this was not the case, but the EU had to understand that Johnson could not again bring forward the deal that was rejected by Britain’s parliament three times, leading to the resignation of his predecessor Theresa May.
“We want a deal. It’s sad that they don’t want to negotiate with us,” the source said, on condition of anonymity.
“The fact that the Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by large margins by the House of Commons on three occasions means that, if there’s going to be a deal, they have to be prepared to renegotiate. We’re ready and willing to do so.”
Johnson has said Britain will leave the EU on 31 October with or without a deal.
His government says the only way to secure a deal would be to ditch the Irish backstop – an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of border controls between EU-member Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland that was ended by the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
The Withdrawal Agreement May struck in November with the EU says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid a hard border. Many British lawmakers oppose being bound to EU rules and customs duties post-Brexit.
The EU has repeatedly ruled out renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, and The Guardian cited a senior EU diplomat as saying Britain “does not have another plan”.
“No intention to negotiate, which would require a plan,” the newspaper quoted the diplomat as saying after meeting David Frost, the British government’s new chief Europe adviser. “A no-deal now appears to be the UK government’s central scenario.”
An EU official briefed on the meeting on 31 July described it as “introductory” when Frost said little more than what Johnson has said publicly.