Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the European Union yesterday to “rethink” their opposition to renegotiating the current Brexit deal, only to be immediately rebuffed by Brussels.

In a pugnacious parliamentary debut as leader, the former London mayor warned that the terms of the agreement struck by his predecessor Theresa May were “unacceptable” and would “sign away our economic independence”. “I hope that the EU… will rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the withdrawal agreement,” Johnson told MPs.

“If they do not, we will of course have to leave the EU without an agreement,” he added, vowing to “turbo-charge” preparations ahead of the latest deadline of October 31. The former foreign secretary also threatened to withhold the £39 billion ($49 billion) divorce bill that Britain has previously said it owes the European Union and spend it instead on preparing for a no-deal outcome.

Just hours later, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned that Johnson’s demands were “unacceptable”, in an email to member state ambassadors seen by AFP that described his speech as “rather combative”. “PM Johnson has stated that if an agreement is to be reached it goes by way of eliminating the backstop,” Barnier wrote, referring to a contentious element of the current deal to keep the Irish border open under all scenarios.

“This is of course unacceptable and not within the mandate of the European Council.”

With Britain’s position appearing to harden, Johnson was expected to talk by telephone with the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker as at press time. A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment on Barnier’s comments, adding: “It’s day one.”

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