Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 June 2019

More Brexit talks after UK sets out backstop changes

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox explained proposed amendments to the tricky Irish border backstop

Mr Barclay said the two sides discussed the proposed Malthouse compromise. Reuters
Mr Barclay said the two sides discussed the proposed Malthouse compromise. Reuters

The UK's Brexit minister said on Monday he would hold more talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox sets out proposed amendments to the tricky Irish border backstop issue.

“We had a positive meeting,” Stephen Barclay told reporters after he and Mr Cox met Mr Barnier in Brussels on Monday.

“We went through and explained where we see the parliamentary majority being and what our strategy is,” he said, referring to the Brexit deal the EU and Britain agreed in November but the ratification of which has since stalled in the UK Parliament.

Mr Barclay said the two sides discussed the proposed Malthouse compromise under which pro and anti-EU factions in Prime Minister Theresa May’s divided Conservative Party agreed London should seek changes to the so-called Irish backstop.

The EU says this insurance policy to avoid border infrastructure on the sensitive Irish frontier after Brexit is essential for peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.

But it is strongly contested in Britain where anti-EU critics fear it would trap the country in EU rules indefinitely and undercut a key Brexit promise of pursuing an independent trade policy.

The Malthouse compromise courts Brexit supporters with a pledge to ditch the unpopular backstop in favour of an alternative, and appeals to pro-EU Conservatives by pledging safeguards against the risk of disruption if no deal can be agreed with Brussels before March 29.

“The attorney general shared his thinking in terms of the legal way forward and how we address the central issue of...the legal underpinning that is temporary and his advice to Parliament in terms of the indefinite nature of the backstop,” Mr Barclay said.

On Tuesday, Mr Cox is due to set out what changes would be required to eliminate that risk. He and Mr Barclay are then due to return to Brussels in the middle of the week to present these proposals to Mr Barnier.

Speaking separately on Monday evening, the head of the EU’s executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, said “no one in Europe would oppose it” if London asked for a Brexit delay beyond the current date of March 29 to get more negotiating time.

He also suggested Britain could go for a longer extension of the so-called Article 50 legal time limit on agreeing divorce terms if it decided to organise European Parliament elections on its soil in May.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s deputy prime minister expressed annoyance on Monday at Britain’s continued failure to ratify a deal on its orderly withdrawal from the European Union.

“Of course there’s frustration,” Simon Coveney, who is also Dublin’s foreign minister, told reporters after more talks in Brussels with EU colleagues.

Mrs May thinks she might be able to get a deal signed with EU leaders in November past the British Parliament if it is reworded.

But EU leaders, as Mr Coveney noted, insist this is a non-starter and that, in particular, a guarantee of no hard border between Ireland and the UK must stay.

“My job is to try to protect Irish interests and the Irish people through Brexit, which is not an Irish policy,” he said after the ministerial meeting.

“We are spending hundreds of millions of euros in Ireland preparing for a no-deal Brexit to try to protect Irish citizens,” he added.

“We don’t want to have to do that. Of course we want a solution here. And yes, there’s frustration,” he said.

“We have less than 40 days to go until the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union and we still don’t know what the British government is actually asking for to actually get this deal ratified.”

Updated: February 20, 2019 05:37 PM

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