Brussels is still standing firm in its opposition to reopen negotiations to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, despite senior Tories beginning to discuss alternatives to the Irish backstop.
And they’re showing no signs of softening on their stance.
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The European Union’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier says the backstop is the ‘only operational solution’ to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. Additionally, senior Brussel’s official Martin Selmayr insists there are no plans to offer May any legally binding assurances in order to get her deal through parliament.
Last week in Whitehall, Common’s voted in favour of researching ‘alternative arrangements’ in replacing the backstop. But they have been met with resistance.
Brexit deal racing against time
According to PAA, after more than two hours of discussions, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said that ‘all sides of this debate’ were ‘coming together to find a solution’. Similarly, ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan called the discussion ‘very constructive’.
But the EU have still refused to give.
The former first minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Trimble also threatened to take the government to court over the backstop in the argument of breaching the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
May will be visiting Northern Ireland on Tuesday, where it’s expected she will confirm her government’s ‘absolute commitment’ to avoiding the situation of a hard border with the Republic following Brexit.
Meanwhile, the cross-party House of Commons Brexit Committee was in Brussels to meet with senior figures including the European Commission general secretary Martin Selmayr, considered as Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man.
But in response to the reports that he’d told the Brexit Committee the EU would be ready to reconsider legally binding assurances, Selmayr declined:
‘On the EU side, nobody is considering this.
‘Asked whether any assurance would help to get the Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, the answers of MPs were…inconclusive.
‘The meeting confirmed that the EU did well to start its no deal preparations in December 2017.’
Similarly, after speaking with the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Barnier said there was ‘full agreement that [the] Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened’.
He said the EU was ‘ready to work on alternative solutions during transition’, standing true to Brussel’s position in that the backstop had to remain in place until or unless a replacement could be made.
Thorns on all sides
Meanwhile, Downing Street has found some potential solutions to the issue of the backstop. These include a time limit, a unilateral break clause, or new technologies to render it unnecessary.
But no comment has been made on whether Home Secretary Sajid Javid was correct to suggest that the UK Border Force had identified such ‘existing technologies’ to carry the job through.
PPA reports that Angela Merkel, taking more of a positive light, has said the EU was ready to listen to proposals to solve the problem, but they’ll need to sit and listen to Britain on how they think it can be done.
‘To solve this riddle, you have to be creative and you have to listen to one another.
‘We can have those conversations, so we can use the remaining time to perhaps remove the obstacles that have so far stood in the way and find an agreement if everyone is willing.
‘But we must hear from Great Britain how they want to do it.’
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