Boris Johnson sparked a major row with the European Union on the first full day of his premiership as he demanded the backstop be scrapped and Brussels refused to budge.
Mr Johnson warned the bloc that the way to a deal ‘goes by way of the abolition of the backstop’ but Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, lashed out at the ‘unacceptable’ demand.
Meanwhile, the new Prime Minister’s call for the existing Brexit divorce deal to be renegotiated was also flatly dismissed by Jean-Claude Juncker.
The outgoing president of the European Commission told Mr Johnson in a phone call this afternoon that the divorce deal agreed with Theresa May in November was the best and only agreement available.
The exchanges put Britain and the EU on a collision course which will almost certainly end with a game of No Deal brinkmanship in the run up to the October 31 Brexit deadline.
The explosive row between Mr Johnson and the EU chiefs came after the new premier held the first Cabinet meeting of his time in Number 10.
He told his newly assembled ‘Brexit Cabinet’ that Britain is at a ‘pivotal moment’ as he also vowed that the country will leave the EU by the end of October ‘or earlier’.
He then addressed the House of Commons for the first time as PM as he set out his priorities for government and launched a blistering attack on Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Johnson branded the Labour leader a ‘brainwashed Remainer’ who was in hock to Iranian ‘Mullahs’ in the first of what is likely to be many fiery clashes between the pair.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson appeared to drop a Tory pledge to reduce annual net migration to below six figures as he promised to introduce an Australian-style points-based system.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn faced intense criticism from the Liberal Democrats after he rejected a call from Jo Swinson to launch an immediate vote of no confidence against Mr Johnson.
Boris Johnson was cheered by Tory MP as he told the House of Commons at lunchtime today that he was committed to delivering on his ‘do or die’ pledge
But Mr Johnson’s demand for the Irish backstop to be deleted from the divorce deal prompted a furious response from Michel Barnier, pictured with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who said it was unacceptable
Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker, pictured in Brussels yesterday, told Mr Johnson in a phone call this afternoon that the current divorce deal was the best and only one available
What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that deal is not in place.
It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
Going on the attack after his unprecedented bloodbath of 17 Cabinet ministers overnight, Mr Johnson warned that the Irish border backstop must be scrapped altogether.
He said: ‘A time limit is not enough. If an agreement is to be reached it must be clearly understood that the way to the deal goes by way of the abolition of the backstop.’
He urged the EU to ‘rethink’ its refusal to make more concessions in the negotiations – threatening to withhold the £39billion divorce bill unless the UK gets a better deal.
He said the UK was ‘better prepared’ than many thought for No Deal, but confirmed Michael Gove will be tasked with finalising contingencies in case they are needed.
In a limited olive branch to Brussels, Mr Johnson did say he would unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens already in the UK to stay after the country leaves the bloc.
But Mr Barnier responded angrily to Mr Johnson’s comments as he told diplomats from the bloc that the ‘combative’ stance from the new PM meant they had to stay united.
In a message circulated in Brussels, Mr Barnier said: ‘PM Johnson has stated that if an agreement is to be reached it goes by way of eliminating the backstop.
‘This is of course unacceptable and not within the mandate of the European Council.’
He said the EU would consider any proposals that were compatible with the existing Withdrawal Agreement which has been rejected by MPs on three separate occasions.
‘But as suggested by his rather combative speech, we have to be ready for a situation where he gives priority to the planning for ”No Deal”, partly to heap pressure on the unity of the EU27,’ Mr Barnier wrote.
In an apparent hint that he expects Parliament to step in to block No Deal or force a general election, Mr Barnier added: ‘I note also the many strong reactions to the speech in the House of Commons.
‘In this context we must follow carefully the further political and economic reactions and developments in the UK following the speech.’
Mr Juncker and Mr Johnson spoke to each other this afternoon in what was likely to have been a fractious phone call.
Mr Juncker told Mr Johnson that the divorce deal agreed by Mrs May the only deal available with the EU.
He told Mr Johnson during the phone call that the EU would analyse any ideas put forward by the UK – but only if they are compatible with the current Withdrawal Agreement, EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva tweeted in a readout of the conversation.
Boris labels Corbyn a ‘brainwashed Remainer’ in first clash
Boris Johnson branded Jeremy Corbyn a ‘brainwashed Remainer’ who was in hock to Iranian ‘Mullahs’ in their fiery first Commons clashes today.
The PM goaded the Labour leader that he had abandoned his long-standing Euroscepticism as he claimed that the Tories were now the only ones ‘on the side of the people’.
Dismissing criticism over tensions with Iran, Mr Johnson pointed out that Mr Corbyn had been paid to appear on state TV, saying he was on the side of the ‘Iranian Mullahs’.
Mr Corbyn accused him of ‘hastily throwing together a hard Right Cabinet’, saying there was no reason to believe he could succeed where Theresa May failed.
Mr Johnson was cheered to the rafters by Tories in the Commons this morning as he told MPs he was determined to honour his ‘do or die’ promise to secure Brexit by the end of October.
But he faced a grilling from Remainer MPs from different parties – including some of the ministers he brutally sacked after he became PM last night.
Mr Corbyn – confronting Mr Johnson across the despatch box for the first time – accused him of ‘hastily throwing together a hard Right Cabinet’.
The premier hit back by taunting Mr Corbyn that he had been ‘brainwashed’ and was now a ‘Remainer’.
‘We are on the side of the people who voted so overwhelmingly for Brexit,’ he said.
Some senior figures pointedly stayed away from the explosive session – with Theresa May, Greg Clark and David Gauke pictured watching the cricket at Lords.
Mr Johnson was cheered to the rafters by Tories today as he told the Commons he was determined to honour his ‘do or die’ promise to secure Brexit by the end of October
Nigel attacks Boris’s new senior aide
Nigel Farage today savaged Boris Johnson’s ‘hostile’ new Brexit guru Dominic Cummings, saying his presence in No10 could thwart an electoral pact.
The Brexit Party leader praised the new PM’s brutal axing of Remainers from the Cabinet as a ‘step in the right direction’.
But he told MailOnline Mr Cummings was an ‘argument waiting to happen’ and had ‘bizarre’ ideas about calling a second referendum.
Mr Cummings is renowned as the maverick architect of the Vote Leave campaign that won the 2016 vote. He was played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Channel 4 drama about the Brexit battle.
But he is a deeply divisive figure in Westminster, with MPs warning that he has ‘no personal skills’ and only wants to dismantle the establishment.
He also clashed bitterly with Mr Farage as Vote Leave and Leave.EU competed to become the official Brexit campaigns in the referendum.
Mr Cummings flatly refused to work with the then-Ukip leader, meaning that the efforts were not coordinated.
Asked today about the appointment of his old foe as senior adviser to Mr Johnson, Mr Farage said: ‘He is not the easiest person.
‘He had this bizarre idea during the referendum of a second confirmatory referendum. I just hope he’s dropped ideas like that.
‘We found him very hostile indeed – hostile to all of us.
‘I’m not saying he’s not a very clever bloke. But he is a very controversial choice.’
Mr Johnson used his first address in the Commons to promise to introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system as he also appeared to drop a Tory pledge to reduce annual net migration to below six figures.
Mr Johnson said during the 2016 EU referendum campaign that the UK should seek to imitate the Australian system which assesses people on different criteria like age, qualifications and language skills.
Today he told the House of Commons that he would finally deliver the long-promised major overhaul of British border control.
Mr Johnson told MPs: ‘For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system, and today I will actually deliver on those promises: I will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system, and I am convinced that we can produce a system that the British people can have confidence in.’
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman was later pushed on whether Mr Johnson would be keeping the ‘tens of thousands’ target.
The spokesman said: ‘He was asked this during the campaign and he said he wasn’t going to be playing a numbers game.’
Asked directly if the target had been ditched, the spokesman appeared to confirm that it had been as he said: ‘His focus is on getting in place an Australian points based system which will allow us to take back control of our borders.’
Before venturing to the Commons, Mr Johnson had convened the first meeting of his Cabinet as he warned his new top team that Brexit must happen by October 31.
Boris Johnson convened his Cabinet for the first time this morning as he told them the UK must leave the EU by October 31. His 33-strong top team was so large that the table in Number 10 was not large enough to accommodate all of them as some were relegated to sitting behind their colleagues. Just one non-politician sits at the Cabinet table: Top civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill who is the Cabinet Secretary.
The full Cabinet line-up was confirmed by No10 today following an extraordinary clear-out after Mr Johnson became PM
Jeremy Corbyn rejects plea from Lib Dems to call no confidence vote
Jeremy Corbyn has refused to launch a vote of no confidence against Boris Johnsonafter Jo Swinson urged the Labour leader to join forces with her to bring down the government.
Ms Swinson, who became Lib Dem leader earlier this week, wrote to Mr Corbyn this morning to ask him to launch a bid to collapse Mr Johnson’s new administration.
But Mr Corbyn dismissed the request and said trying to oust the new PM immediately would only strengthen his position as he accused the Lib Dems of ‘childish and irresponsible game playing’.
Ms Swinson hit back and claimed Mr Corbyn was ‘aiding and abetting’ a Tory-led Brexit.
MPs are due to go on holiday today before returning to work on September 3.
If Mr Corbyn had agreed to table a vote of no confidence it would likely have taken place on the first day back after the summer break.
Parliamentary convention means it is only the official leader of the Opposition who can ask the Commons Speaker to hold a vote of no confidence in the government.
The meeting took place after Mr Johnson oversaw an unprecedented bloodbath of Theresa May’s government as he stripped out 17 of her ministers to create a group willing to go through with No Deal.
Opening the meeting, Mr Johnson told the senior Tories they represented the ‘depth and breadth of talent in our extraordinary party’.
‘As you all know we have a momentous task ahead of us, at a pivotal moment in our country’s history,’ he said.
‘We are now committed, all of us, to leaving the European Union on October 31 or indeed earlier – no ifs, no buts.
‘But we are not going to wait until October 31 to get on with a fantastic new agenda for our country, and that means delivering the priorities of the people.’
The Prime Minister’s 33-strong Cabinet is the largest since Gordon Brown’s in 2008.
Mr Johnson’s attempt to stamp his authority on his new government saw him draft in a swathe of key players from the 2016 Vote Leave referendum campaign as advisers – including maverick chief Dominic Cummings.
Hard Brexiteer Dominic Raab was made Foreign Secretary and Mr Johnson’s effective deputy, while Tory ERG head Jacob Rees-Mogg was brought to the top table as Commons Leader.
In a sign the pair have finally buried the hatchet after years of psychodrama, Michael Gove was handed responsibility for making sure the UK is ready for a No Deal Brexit on October 31.
Mr Johnson’s brother Jo – who once resigned in protest at Mrs May’s tough approach on Brexit – has been promoted to universities minister, and will attend Cabinet.
But the new PM faces the threat of revenge from sacked Remainer ministers who have pledged to block No Deal – while critics claimed that the new team showed the Tories had been ‘fully taken over by the hard Right’.