Boris Johnson is an “unelected” prime minister whose no-deal Brexit plans are putting the Northern Irish peace process at risk, a senior EU official has declared.
In a scathing speech, EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said that the new British premier would create a “foul atmosphere” with European Union partners if the UK quit the bloc without an agreement.
Hogan, a former veteran Irish politician, hit out as French government officials said they now believed a no-deal exit was the most likely outcome that Britain – but warned it would have to pay its £39bn divorce bill.
As Johnson prepared for his first trips as PM to Germany and France, Hogan was withering about his latest demand to scrap the so-called ‘backstop’ that guarantees no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland under Brexit.
A close ally of European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker and Irish PM Leo Varadkar, he said Mr Johnson’s claim that the backstop was anti-democratic “seems strange... coming from an unelected prime minister”.
“We should recall that the backstop was agreed by a Prime Minister who was democratically elected,” he said, according to the Irish Independent.
Hogan, speaking on Wednesday morning in Ireland, claimed Johnson had stacked his new cabinet with a ‘Hard Brexit Dream Team’, but warned the EU would “not buckle” in the face of pressure.
“If the UK fails to prevent a crash-out Brexit they should be under no illusion regarding the foul atmosphere they will create with their EU partners and the serious consequences this will have for negotiating any future trade agreement,” he added.
And in a further jibe, Hogan said: “Prime Minister Johnson’s hero is Winston Churchill and he seems to view himself as a modern day Churchill.
“However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK government’s only Churchilian legacy will be –‘never have so few done so much damage to so many’.”
A government source hit back hard, telling HuffPost UK: “Deliberate personal attacks like this are just the kind of negotiation ploys that led to the failure to secure a deal last time.
“The Commission should stop playing these kind of games, and instead work towards changes that could make a deal possible.
“The backstop is toxic and would leave the EU in control of laws and taxes without democratic accountability. If the EU is genuinely keen to negotiate a deal, it will recognise this.”
Johnson this week made his first diplomatic move on Brexit since succeeding Theresa May as PM, offering to show flexibility if the EU agreed to dump the backstop from its withdrawal agreement with the UK.
His overture was swiftly rejected by EU chief Donald Tusk as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In his letter to Brussels, Johnson said that the backstop risks weakening the “delicate balance” of the Good Friday Agreement, but Hogan hit back that it was time for the UK to “get real”, adding that “gambling with peace and the Good Friday Agreement is not good politics”.
Johnson is in Berlin on Wednesday for talks with Merkel and flies to Paris to meet French PM Emmanuel Macron on Thursday. At the weekend, he attends his first G7 summit as prime minister.
But sterling slumped on the money markets after French officials made clear that they were now stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit.
One told reporters that it was now the central scenario for France. The government official added that the EU will still consider the Brexit ‘divorce bill’ - where the UK pays its remaining liabilities as a member - to still be ‘due’.
“The idea of saying ‘there’s not a deal, so I won’t pay’ does not work. We cannot imagine that a country like the UK would back out of an international commitment,” the official said.
The £39bn bill was based on a two-year transition period, and is likely to be smaller but it remains unclear what the figure will be under no-deal.