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‘The future of the UK is in Europe,’ Macron says ahead of Brexit talks with Boris Johnson

Geoffroy van der Hasselt, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak to media prior to their meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris on August 22.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Boris Johnson for Brexit talks Thursday, with Macron saying ahead of the meeting he hopes the British prime minister will offer some "clarification" on his plans for an exit from the EU bloc.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Paris on Thursday on the second leg of his first foreign visit since taking office. Johnson met his French counterpart at the Élysée Palace to press home his message that elements of the UK's impending divorce from the European Union must be renegotiated.

Macron has said that Johnson's demand to renegotiate the divorce deal was not workable and warned Britain that it risked being subordinated by the United States if it crashed out of the European Union.

"The future of the UK, based on our history and our values, is in Europe," Macron said in prepared remarks ahead of the talks with Johnson.

The French president emphasised that his view of Brexit has been shaped by a will to “protect the European project", stressing however that "it is for Britain alone to choose its destiny”.

Speaking of the looming threat that Britain could crash out of the European bloc without an exit agreement in place, Johnson said: “Of course, I want a deal. And I think we can get a deal – and a good deal."

But he added: “It is vital for trust in politics that, if you have a referendum, then you should act on the instructions of the voters. And that is why we must come out of the EU on October the 31st, deal or no deal.”

Armen Georgian reports from the Élysée Palace

Johnson also celebrated the economic and cultural links between the two countries, saying that: “London is one of the great French cities on earth, and long may it remain so, and that whatever happens, there is a joint ambition to deepen economic inter-penetration."

The talks come after Merkel on Wednesday told Johnson in Berlin that an agreement could even be possible within "30 days" for Britain to leave the EU, if a solution could be found to the thorny issue of the Irish border.

The British prime minister has been adamant that he will not accept the "backstop" border plan agreed under his predecessor Theresa May, warning that the UK will exit the EU on October 31, even at the cost of economic turmoil.

Macron on Wednesday dismissed Johnson's demands that the EU reopen negotiations on the Irish border, saying that the bloc had always been clear it would not agree.

"Renegotiation of the terms currently proposed by the British is not an option that exists, and that has always been made clear by (EU) President Tusk," Macron told reporters in Paris.

At the weekend, all three European leaders will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of both Brexit and Johnson, and the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.

The backstop is a mechanism to avoid border checks between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, part of the UK, with checkpoints there removed as part of a 1998 peace deal on the divided island.

But critics have derided the plan because it would temporarily keep Britain in the EU customs union.

In Berlin, Johnson again stressed his view that the backstop "has grave, grave defects for a sovereign, democratic country like the UK" and added that the provision "plainly has to go".

Merkel said that the mechanism was always meant as a "fallback position" to protect the "integrity of the single market" for the period in which the other 27 EU members and London define their future relationship.

In the search for a solution, she said, "we have said we would probably find it in the next two years, but maybe we can do it in the next 30 days, why not? Then we are one step further in the right direction".

What exactly is the backstop?

Johnson told Merkel that he welcomed the "very blistering timetable of 30 days", adding that "I'm more than happy with that."

He added: "I just want to be absolutely clear with all our German friends and the German government that we in the UK want a deal, we seek a deal, and I believe we can do that."

"Wir schaffen das," he quipped, borrowing Merkel's signature German phrase on managing the 2015 refugee influx that translates to "we can do it".

Johnson, in a "do-or-die" gamble, has insisted Britain will leave the EU on October 31, no matter whether it has ironed out remaining differences with the bloc or not.

Ahead of his Berlin visit, Johnson reaffirmed in a tweet that: "We're going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in." The message was adorned with a Union flag.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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