Monday 25 March 2019

'Backstop can be changed without reopening May's deal' - UK minister

Theresa May and her husband Philip attend church yesterday. Photo: PA
Theresa May and her husband Philip attend church yesterday. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The British prime minister may not seek to reopen the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement after all, a senior member of her Cabinet has indicated.

Theresa May is now considering the possibility of getting a legally binding statement from the EU on the backstop rather than changing the deal itself.

Irish ministers have always said they would be open-minded about offering clarifications on the backstop through a codicil - but insist that cannot extend to adding a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism. It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron's office was forced to downplay reports in the UK media that his government had offered concessions on the backstop.

Mr Macron has championed the EU's refusal to reopen the Brexit deal but it was claimed this position was softening.

However, the Elysee Palace said last night: "These [reports] are without any foundation... The French position is that of the European Union: the Withdrawal Agreement is not renegotiable."

Normal EU business continues today with a meeting of foreign ministers due to discuss the situations in Ukraine, Syria, the Horn of Africa and Venezuela. Brexit is not on the agenda but Tánaiste Simon Coveney is likely to continue lobbying his counterparts for support.

Elsewhere in Brussels, UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will meet the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier to discuss the proposals of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group of Tories, who have been seeking a compromise solution to avoid the need for a backstop.

EU officials will be carefully watching to see if there is any substance to statements made by Mrs May's culture secretary on the BBC yesterday.

Jeremy Wright implied the insurance policy to prevent a hard Border could be amended via a codicil, saying the "objective" mattered more than the "mechanism".

His comments came hours after Mrs May wrote to Tory MPs assuring them the government would continue its work to secure changes to the backstop, pleading with them to unite and deliver on Brexit.

"I think what's obvious is that parliament, and I think probably people well beyond parliament, are concerned about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop," Mr Wright said.

"That's why we've got to do something about. I don't think it's the mechanism that matters, it's the objective: if you can get to a place where the potential longevity of the backstop, the potential that the backstop lasts forever can be adequately dealt with, that's what we're all seeking to do."

Meanwhile, the UK's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will set out what changes would be required to eliminate the legal risk of being indefinitely trapped in the backstop, in a speech tomorrow.

Mrs May will hold further talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker later in the week.

Irish Independent

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