Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is in agreement with Emmanuel Macron’s stance on Brexit – after the French president insisted the Irish border backstop is “indispensable”.
Mr Macron welcomed Boris Johnson to Paris on Thursday, during which he told the prime minister the UK and EU “will not find a new withdrawal agreement within 30 days that will be very different from the existing one”.
The French president also described the backstop arrangement – which Mr Johnson wants scrapped from the current withdrawal agreement – as “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling”, but “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market.
Asked about Mr Macron’s comments during a visit to a hill farm in Cumbria, Mr Corbyn replied: “I agree with President Macron. The question of the Irish border is fundamental to a lot of things.
“The Irish peace process was an enormous step forward – it’s an international treaty, it’s an international agreement.
“It cannot be negotiated away by Boris Johnson or anybody else.
“So, I think President Macron is quite right to say they’re not going to allow a hard border to return in Ireland and I’m absolutely with him on that.”
The backstop is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, should such a scenario not be avoided through the future UK-EU relationship, but has been criticised for leaving either Northern Ireland or the whole UK too closely tied to EU rules with no influence.
When former prime minister Theresa May first put her withdrawal agreement to a parliamentary vote in January this year, Mr Corbyn criticised the backstop for “locking Britain into a deal from which it cannot leave without the agreement of the EU”.
Mr Corbyn has invited other opposition party leaders and senior MPs to a meeting next week to discuss efforts to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which Mr Johnson has said he is willing to consider after pledging the UK will leave the EU on 31 October “do or die”.
The Labour leader said he would use the meeting to discuss the process by which he would move a motion of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s government, which is expected soon after MPs return to Westminster in the first week of September.
He also suggested Labour would once more support proposals by backbench MPs to seize control of the House of Commons agenda from the government in order to legislate against a no-deal Brexit.
However, Mr Corbyn again dismissed calls for him to drop his bid to become caretaker prime minister – should Mr Johnson lose a confidence vote – in order to delay Brexit again and call a general election.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has told Mr Corbyn he wouldn’t command the support of a majority of MPs and has instead proposed senior Conservative MP Ken Clarke or Labour’s Harriet Harman as alternative caretaker prime ministers.
Mr Corbyn used his trip to Cumbria to warn of the “pretty disastrous” impact on British agriculture of a no-deal Brexit, suggesting Mr Johnson should extend the Article 50 negotiating period in order to take more time to agree a deal with the EU.
He said: “There’s no need for this 31 October deadline to be there.
“Boris Johnson could perfectly easily take much longer to negotiate, much longer to talk about it, listen to what other people are saying instead of holding this cudgel to everyone’s head saying, it’s got to be done by 31 October with all the damage that will do to our farming communities.”
Labour support a second EU referendum in all circumstances, but Mr Corbyn refused to say if a government he led would offer a Labour-negotiated Brexit option versus Remain in another public vote.
He said: “In a referendum between no deal and Remain, we would support Remain.
“Any other option would have to be coming out of our democratic processes in the Labour Party.
“But, to be very clear, the people of this country will have a choice on their future.”