Barnier rejects May's demands for alternative to the “Irish backstop”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator on Wednesday (Jan 30th) rejected UK Prime Minister Theresa May's demand to find an alternative to the Irish border arrangement, as agreed in their divorce deal, saying that time was too short, and that this deal was not open for renegotiation. 

With only two months left before Britain is due to leave the EU, a narrow majority in the British parliament instructed May on Tuesday to go back to Brussels to revise what is arguably the most intractable part of the deal. 

Michel Barnier told France’s RTL radio that the two-year divorce negotiations had looked for an alternative to the “Irish backstop”, designed to ensure that the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, long a scene of sectarian violence, remains free of border posts. 

“No one, on either side, was able to say what arrangement would be needed to ensure controls on goods, animals and merchandise without having a border,” Barnier said. “We have neither the time, nor the technologies.” 

The 11th-hour uncertainty leaves Britain’s investors and allies trying to gauge whether the crisis will end up in a deal, a chaotic ‘no-deal’ Brexit on March 29, a delay, or no Brexit at all, according to Reuters.

In essence, May will use the implicit threat of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit to seek a deal from the other 27 members of the EU. 

“The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted in what he said was a message to May. “Yesterday, we found out what the UK doesn’t want. But we still don’t know what the UK does want.” 

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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