France’s President today shot down hopes of a gleaming new Brexit deal within 30 days in a combative press conference with Boris Johnson .
Emmanuel Macron said any new plan will not be “very different” from what already exists as he greeted Britain’s Prime Minister in Paris.
And he warned the infamous Irish backstop clause – which Boris Johnson wants to scrap – is “indispensable”.
It came after Boris Johnson said he was “powerfully encouraged” by Germany’s Angela Merkel – who last night suggested a deal could be struck in a month.
The French President said: “We should always all together be able to find something smart within 30 days if there’s goodwill on both sides, and I believe there is.”
But with 70 days left to Brexit, Mr Macron warned: “We will not find a new Withdrawal Agreement within 30 days which will be very different from the existing one.
“If what [EU chief] Michel Barnier has negotiated can be amended while complying with the integrity of the single market… then we can find a solution.
“If not, it’s probably a political issue, a political decision to be taken by the Prime Minister. It will not be our decision.”
The warning about the single market is a dig at Boris Johnson’s plans, which are said to include asking Ireland to diverge from EU rules.
Both men were polite in today’s clash – with Mr Johnson praising Concorde and the Channel Tunnel – but challenged each other in thinly-veiled diplomatic attacks.
Mr Johnson twice challenged the French President to commit he would never put checks up along Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic. Britain’s PM said “under no circumstances” would he allow border checks to be put up.
But Mr Macron refused to take the bait – instead suggesting any outcome would be Britain’s choice. He asked for more “visibility” of the UK’s plans.
While Mr Macron was speaking Boris Johnson was smiling, staring forward and not looking at his host. At points he had his arms folded. While Boris Johnson spoke the French President looked at him intently.
Speaking ahead of their lunch Mr Macron said: “I’ve always been presented as the hard boy – it’s just that I’ve always been clear.
“A choice was made and we did not just ignore it. We will have to implement a decision by the British people and not walk around it.”
But the arch-Europhile warned EU leaders must “never weaken this project” of creating a “stronger and more sovereign European Union”.
Mr Macron said the EU had “always said that it was available to discuss, depending on the wishes of the UK, our future relationship”.
Buy he warned the Withdrawal Agreement – which is separate to the future relationship and which Boris Johnson wants to change – was not up for renegotiation.
He said it and the Irish backstop are “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling”.
Instead he said they are “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland the integrity of the single market.
Mr Macron said “as a friend and as an ally of the UK” France would build a joint future with the UK.
But he said France had “already prepared” for a no-deal Brexit, warning: “It belongs to the UK alone to decide about its destiny.
“To decide about the way you will leave the European Union and the basis of the future relationship.”
It came after the French President slapped down Boris Johnson’s Brexit mini-tour before he even turned up for lunch today.
Mr Macron said overnight that Brexit was an “internal democratic crisis”, saying while France must help, “we mustn’t be hostage to it nor export it.”
France last night declared no-deal Brexit is now the most likely outcome on October 31.
And Mr Macron mocked Boris Johnson by saying Britain risks a “historic vassalisation” to Trump’s US – aping Mr Johnson’s claim that the original Brexit deal made Britain a “vassal state”.
The backstop is a clause in the Withdrawal Agreement which would tie the UK to EU rules in order to prevent border checks springing up in Northern Ireland.
With just 70 days left to Brexit, talks appear deadlocked ahead of Mr Johnson’s meetings with Donald Trump and EU chief Donald Tusk at this weekend’s EU summit.
Even though Ms Merkel suggested a solution could be found in 30 days, she left it up to Boris Johnson to cough up the details.