Monday 14 October 2019

New Brexit offer as EU says only Northern Ireland must remain in backstop

Key voices: EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Key voices: EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

THE EU has offered Britain a unilateral way out of the backstop provided the key measures still apply to Northern Ireland.

In an unusual change of approach, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has this evening tweeted details of the EU’s latest bid to end the impasse.

However, his proposals are unlikely to be enough to satisfy hardline elements with Prime Minister Theresa May’s government or the DUP.

Mr Barnier said the EU has committed to giving the UK an option of exiting the Single Customs Territory unilaterally, “while the other elements of the backstop must be maintained to avoid a hard border”

“UK will not be forced into customs union against its will,” he said, adding: “The EU will continue working intensively over the coming days to ensure that the UK leaves the EU with an agreement”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hinted at this approach earlier today when he said if Great Britain does not want to be part of the backstop that’s fine – but Northern Ireland must be in order to ensure there is never a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The original backstop was only applicable to the North but Mrs May convinced the EU to make it UK-wide after the DUP complained about the creation of a virtual border down the Irish Sea.

“Bear in mind elements of that compromise like extending the backstop on a UK-wide basis, the single customs territory involving all the United Kingdom, these were compromises that the British government sought.

“We were and remain happy to apply the backstop to Northern Ireland only if they want to go back to that,” he said.

Asked if there was anything Ireland could offer to help break the impasse, Mr Varadkar replied: “What’s not obvious is what the UK government is offering the European Union and Ireland should they wish us to make any further compromises. We have received no offer from them as to what they would give us in return for any changes.

“It requires a change of approach from the UK government to understand that Brexit is a problem of their creation,” he said.

In a speech today, Mrs May implored to the EU to give her legally-binding changes to the backstop ahead of a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in parliament next Tuesday.

She said “one more push” was needed to get MPs on board. However, at the same time she delivered a message to politicians in London, saying: "Back it and the U.K. will leave the European Union. Reject it and no one knows what will happen."

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