Emmanuel Macron told the Prime Minister in Paris there could not be a “reshuffling” of the Withdrawal Agreement – but he left open the possibility of making some changes to the deal.
He backed the 30-day timescale suggested by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday for the UK to come forward with its proposals but warned that the Irish backstop – the main stumbling block – was indispensable.
“We will not find a new Withdrawal Agreement within 30 days that will be very different from the existing one,” he said as he spoke with Mr Johnson at the Elysee Palace.
Mrs Merkel sought to play down the importance of the 30-day period she had suggested on Wednesday, saying it was merely “an allegory for being able to do it in a short period of time”.
On a visit to the Netherlands, she said: “It would be better to say one can achieve that by 31 October.”
In an effort to avoid the EU being blamed for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, Mr Macron said failure to reach a deal would be “a political decision to be taken by the Prime Minister, it’s not our decision”.
Mr Johnson has demanded the backstop – a contingency plan aimed at ensuring a soft border with the Republic of Ireland in all circumstances – should be scrapped.
Mr Macron said the Withdrawal Agreement and Irish backstop are “not just technical constraints or legal quibbling” but “genuine, indispensable guarantees” to preserve stability in Ireland and the integrity of the single market.
He said the EU had “always said it was available to discuss, depending on the wishes of the UK, our future relationship”.
The two leaders were speaking yesterday before they held formal talks at the palace.
Mr Johnson stressed that, while he wants an agreement, the UK “must come out of the EU on 31 October, deal or no-deal”.
He insisted alternatives to the backstop could be found because “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. There were “positive noises” about ways of addressing the issue, he said.
“She [Mrs Merkel] said if we can do this in two years then we can do this in 30 days and I admire that ‘can-do’ spirit that she seemed to have and I think she is right. I think that the technical solutions are readily available and they have been discussed at great length.
“You can have trusted-trader schemes, you can have electronic pre-clearing for goods moving across the border and I just want to repeat one crucial thing, under no circumstances will the UK be putting checks at the frontier.
“We don’t think it is necessary from the point of view of the EU to do that to protect the integrity of the single market, we think there are other ways of doing that. We have got, I think, adequate time to do it. Let’s get on and do it.”
Mr Johnson said he wanted a Brexit that was as “pain-free as possible”, whether or not there was a deal.
“A great deal of work has already been done to ensure that the transition on 31 October is as smooth as it possibly can be and so there are already agreements on aviation, on financial services, many other sectors,” he said.
In the remaining days before Brexit “we want to make sure we do all the necessary work on both sides of the Channel to make sure that, whether we get an agreement or not, our exit is as smooth and pain-free as possible for citizens and businesses on both sides”.
The two leaders met after Mr Macron issued a stark warning about the UK’s place on the world stage after Brexit.
The G7 summit in Biarritz starting on Saturday will be Mr Johnson’s debut at a global event and he is expected to meet US President Donald Trump, who has previously been an isolated figure at such gatherings.
On Wednesday Mr Macron warned that the UK would be a “junior partner” in its relationship with Washington if it sought to strengthen transatlantic links after a hard Brexit.
“Can the cost for Britain of a hard Brexit – because Britain will be the main victim – be offset by the United States of America? No,” Mr Macron said. “And even if it were a strategic choice, it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of Britain.”
At Westminster, opposition parties have agreed to meet next week to discuss plans to block a no-deal Brexit in Parliament.
On Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn wrote to opposition leaders and key Tory Remain-backing rebels calling for a meeting next Tuesday aimed at stopping Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
In his letter, the Labour leader said: “The country is heading into a constitutional and political storm, so it is vital that we meet urgently, before Parliament returns.”
The Liberal Democrats, SNP, Change UK, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have since agreed to attend the meeting. Mr Corbyn also invited five Remain-backing former Conservative ministers.
However, Tory MP Dame Caroline Spelman and independent MP Nick Boles have said they are not willing to meet him.
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has said she will meet Mr Corbyn, despite saying last week that her party could not support a government of national unity with him at the helm.
In a tweet, she said: “I look forward to discussing how we can stop the disastrous consequences of no-deal and will be asking Jeremy Corbyn if he is open to all options to prevent it. We have to focus on plans that have a chance of success.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has also agreed to meet the Labour leader.
On Wednesday, Mr Blackford said: “Boris Johnson is taking the UK towards a Brexit disaster. With time running out, it is now vital that MPs take every step necessary to stop Brexit and block a catastrophic no-deal.”
Plaid Cymru’s Commons leader, Liz Saville-Roberts, said she would meet Mr Corbyn but added: “In this crisis, policy comes before personality.
“If Corbyn fails to offer a workable plan, others must be given the opportunity.”
Change UK leader Anna Soubry and Green MP Caroline Lucas have also confirmed they will attend.
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he is willing to meet Mr Corbyn but is unavailable next Tuesday.
He added: “I have already indicated I am happy to meet with him to discuss stopping no-deal Brexit. But I can’t make the suggested meeting next Tuesday.”
Mr Boles, however, rejected the Labour leader’s invitation.
The former Tory minister, who quit the party in April over its approach to Brexit, warned Mr Corbyn not to pursue a vote of no confidence in the Government which could lead to a general election before legislation had been passed to mandate the Prime Minister to request an extension to Article 50, the legal mechanism for a member state to leave the EU.
He said: “I therefore urge you and the leaders of the other opposition parties to focus on legislative measures to stop no-deal Brexit on 31 October.”Mr Boles was one of the MPs who co-ordinated efforts to block a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.