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Barnier 'not optimistic' about avoiding no-deal Brexit and says deal can't be changed

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made his comments in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph today.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
Image: Wiktor Dabkowski via PA Images

EU CHIEF BREXIT negotiator Michel Barnier has said the bloc will not change the divorce deal agreed with Britain and that he is “not optimistic” of avoiding a no-deal outcome.

Barnier said the most contentious element of the agreement, the so-called backstop mechanism aimed at keeping the Northern Irish border open in all circumstances, must remain.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took power last month, has called for the provision to be scrapped in order to reach a new deal ahead of the country’s latest 31 October departure date.

Johnson has said he was encouraged in his bid to axe the backstop by recent meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who appeared to suggest an openness to alternatives.

But writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, Barnier said Brussels remained unconvinced after “intense discussions with EU member states on the need to guarantee the integrity of the EU’s Single Market, while keeping that border fully open”. 

“The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state,” he stated.

I am not optimistic about avoiding a ‘no deal’ scenario but I remain determined to explore all avenues that the UK government will present that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.

The EU negotiator also said discussions about alternatives to the backstop could not begin until Britain had approved the divorce deal struck with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May late last year.

It was subsequently rejected three times by British MPs, leading Brexit to be delayed to 31 October.

“We are ready to start this work immediately upon ratification of the withdrawal agreement, in parallel to finally creating clarity on our future relationship,” Barnierstated.

He added that if Britain left the EU without a deal it would be London’s decision.

“Many people in the UK understand that and I would be surprised if they succumb to the idea that the EU is to blame for a difficult political situation in the UK.”

Alternatives

On Friday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney called on the British government to recommend viable alternatives to the backstop to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator as quickly as possible.

Coveney met with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab on Friday. 

A spokesman for the Tánaiste said that he reiterated Ireland’s position on the withdrawal agreement and said the red lines agreed between the EU and UK were not negotiable.

He also urged the British government to bring forward any viable alternatives to the backstop, which achieve the same goal of no hard border or related infrastructure on the island of Ireland, to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, thousands of protesters rallied in dozens of British cities against Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament weeks before Brexit.

Queen Elizabeth II gave her approval to Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for several weeks on Wednesday. This instantly sparked widespread outrage, legal challenges and promises of resistance from parliamentarians.

The move was widely seen as a way of limiting the time Johnson’s opponents have to organise against him.

The main opposition Labour Party has said it is also considering a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s Conservative government, which commands a fragile 320 to 319 majority.

Includes reporting by - © AFP 2019

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