Angela Merkel said there are “possibilities” for compromise over Brexit as she met British PM Boris Johnson in Berlin on Wednesday.
While the European Commission has ruled out any renegotiation of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, the German Chancellor set a more pragmatic tone, saying she “would like to hear the proposals” for alternatives to the backstop — the mechanism devised to avoid a hard land border between the UK and Ireland.
Johnson on Monday wrote to the EU to demand the removal of the backstop from the withdrawal agreement negotiated with his predecessor, Theresa May.
"The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved,” she told reporters. “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?"
The two leaders were speaking ahead of talks on Johnson’s first official visit. He will travel to Paris on Thursday for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Merkel was clear that the two leaders presently “do not have a solution” over the backstop, but added that there was scope for compromise. “I see possibilities,” she added.
Macron, meanwhile, told reporters in Paris that he was seeking clarification from Johnson as UK demands to renegotiate Brexit are "not an option".
In an apparent reference to the change in British leadership, Merkel said: “That presupposes that we have absolute clarity on the future relationship between Britain and the European Union. The clarity has become clearer if I can put it like that, so we have a lot to discuss.”
Johnson said the backstop contained “grave, grave defects” and “plainly has to go,” adding: “Once we get rid of it there is the real prospect of making progress very rapidly indeed, that’s why I’m here.”
He agreed with Merkel that the onus was on Britain to put forward alternative proposals.
Despite the difficulty of finding a solution, “people find a way through,” he said, “and if we approach this with sufficient patience and optimism we can get this done.”
He said it was often “in the final furlong” that “horses change places and the winning deal appears.”
Both leaders poured cold water on US President Donald Trump’s remark that Russia should be readmitted to the G7, to restore the pre-2014 G8.
Merkel said there had not been “sufficient progress” over Ukraine, while Johnson said that the use of chemical weapons on British soil showed that “the case has yet to be made out for Russia to return.”