Johnson to Tusk: No, you’re ‘Mr No Deal’

BIARRITZ, France — Boris Johnson shot back swiftly at Donald Tusk’s jibe that he could go down in history as “Mr No Deal” by suggesting the nickname may end up applying to the European Council chief.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday on the plane en route to the G7 summit in Biarritz, the British prime minister suggested that if the EU did not drop the Northern Ireland backstop from the Brexit deal, it would be Tusk who would carry responsibility for the U.K. crashing out without an agreement.

“I’ve made it absolutely clear I don’t want a no-deal Brexit but I say to our friends in the EU: If they don’t want a no-deal Brexit then you’ve got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty,” Johnson said. “If Donald Tusk doesn’t want to go down as Mr No-Deal Brexit then I hope that point would be borne in mind by him too.”

The two leaders will meet on the sidelines of the summit on Sunday, with the U.K. and the EU still talking past one another on the possibility of renegotiating Theresa May’s Brexit deal in time to avoid the U.K. leaving without an agreement on the October 31 deadline.

Tusk said at his pre-summit press conference earlier on Saturday that the EU would be willing to discuss “operational and realistic” alternatives to the backstop, if and when the U.K. puts them on the table.

Asked when this would happen, Johnson said that there were “a large range of alternative arrangements” which “will be discussed with our friends in the coming weeks.”

“We will be discussing things in great detail as you would expect,” he added, when pressed on timing.

Hopes of a breakthrough are low, with EU leaders including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron showing no appetite to drop the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement.

EU leaders have an eye on the coming battle in the U.K. parliament in September, when MPs are expected to try to block Johnson taking the U.K. out of the EU with no deal.

Asked what he would do if MPs legislated for a Brexit extension, Johnson swerved the question.

“It’s parliament’s job now to respect not just the will of the people but to remember what the overwhelming majority of them promised to do over and over and over again and that is to get Brexit done,” he said.

Asked about his relations with Tusk ahead of the meeting, and the European Council president’s comment that those who promoted Brexit without a plan had a “special place in hell”, Johnson said: “I had great relations with our friends and partners in the EU and intend to continue to improve them the whole time without getting into any post-Brexit eschatology with the president of the Council.”

Eschatology is the field of theology concerned with death, judgement and the final destiny of humankind.

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