LONDON — Boris Johnson is heading to Europe, but his officials are heading out.
The U.K. prime minister will touch down in Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of his pledge to work with “energy and determination” to reach an agreement with the European Union before the Brexit date of October 31. He heads on to Paris to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.
But Johnson has hardly prepared the ground for smooth talks with his EU counterparts.
His call for the EU to drop the Irish border backstop from the Brexit deal agreed with his predecessor Theresa May was sharply rejected by European Council President Donald Tusk.
And on the eve of Johnson’s visit, Britain announced most U.K. officials will stop attending most EU meetings on the future of the Union from September 1. While the government insisted the move “is not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU,” the message to Brussels is clear: We have more important things to do.
“It is time to remove that backstop, get rid of it, have a total backstop-ectomy and I think then we can make progress” — Boris Johnson, British prime minister
“From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours,” Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay declared. “This will free up time for Ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Against that backdrop,