German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Prime Minister Boris Johnson he has 30 days to come up with an alternative solution to replace the Irish backstop.
Mr Johnson called her timetable “blistering”, but said he was “more than happy” with her proposal to speed-up the talks.
The Conservative Party leader arrived in Berlin yesterday to kick-start talks to find an alternative to the Irish backstop – a contingency measure negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May to get an exit deal over the line.
Mr Johnson, in a letter this week to European Council President Donald Tusk, said Britain would leave without a deal unless the “anti-democratic” backstop – voted down three times by MPs in Parliament – was removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.
The backstop was a stop-gap measure agreed by Mrs May in an attempt to prevent a hard border being reinstalled in Northern Ireland, a move that would have tied the UK to European Union rules until a solution was found.
Mrs Merkel, in a statement in the Chancellery, said the backstop had always been a “fallback position” and would only come into effect if no other solution could be agreed that would protect the “integrity of the single market”.
In an attempt to have a backstop solution in place before the October 31 Brexit deadline, the German leader said she wanted a new arrangement agreed within 30 days.
She said: “If one is able to solve this conundrum, if one finds this solution, we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come.
“Then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this.”
Mr Johnson said he was “more than happy” with the timetable proposed by his German counterpart.
“I must say I am very glad listening to you tonight Angela to hear that at least the conversations that matter can now properly begin,” he said.
“You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days – if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.”
A Downing Street source said the government was happy with the tone of Mrs Merkel’s exchange.
The government was not briefed beforehand that Mrs Merkel would apply the “pressure” of a 30-day deadline, but Mr Johnson’s team is hopeful it is an indication that European leaders are preparing to renegotiate – an outcome the EU has previously ruled out.
Mr Johnson told Mrs Merkel that the backstop would have to go as part of further discussions – or else Britain was prepared to leave without a deal.
He said the backstop would need to be removed “whole and entire” before a deal could be reached.
But Mr Johnson, on his first trip to Germany as PM, said he was optimistic an agreement could be struck.
He is due to travel to France today to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to hold similar discussions.