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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

EU unites to reject further Brexit talks on Irish backstop

Theresa May will go to Brussels to seek an alternative to the controversial plan to keep the Irish border open

Leaders across the European Union offered a chorus of "No" on Wednesday to Britain's belated bid to negotiate changes to the Brexit divorce deal. AP.
Leaders across the European Union offered a chorus of "No" on Wednesday to Britain's belated bid to negotiate changes to the Brexit divorce deal. AP.

EU leaders have lined up to reject talk of any further changes to the Britain's Brexit deal a day after prime minister Theresa May was given permission by MPs to renegotiate the controversial Irish backstop.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday Mrs May admitted it would be difficult to get the EU to budge and said a number of options were on the table.

MPs narrowly voted through an amendment on Tuesday, allowing Mrs May to seek with Brussels a legal binding alternative to the backstop, the insurance policy against a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The prime minister’s comments were met by a united EU with incredulity as they reiterated there remained no room for discussion.

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said Brexit officials had spent two years assessing alternatives to the backstop but had failed to find one that worked.

"We have been through all of these things. We have tested them and we have found that they do not stand up to scrutiny, and now we have a British prime minister advocating again for the same things that were tested," he told RTE.

"What we are being asked to do here is to compromise on a solution that works and to replace it with wishful thinking. That's what's being asked of the Irish government and we won't do it."

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the European parliament the current withdrawal agreement “remains the best and only deal possible”.

"We have no incentive, no desire to lose the safety net,” he said.

Mrs May’s original Brexit deal was humiliatingly rejected by parliament in a record defeat two weeks ago and she has since reached out to opposition leaders to forge a way forward.

She finally sat down for crunch talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday afternoon to discuss leaving the EU. Mr Corbyn had originally said he would refuse to meet with Mrs May until she ruled out a devastating no deal Brexit.

Before the talks the two had clashed in parliament with the Labour leader imploring the prime minister to ditch her seemingly inflexible “red lines”.

Mrs May hit back, saying: "He has no plan for Brexit, no good plan for our economy and no plan for our country.”

The UK is slated to leave the EU on March 29. An amendment to push this deadline back, to ensure a deal with Brussels was reached and reduce the chance of a no deal Brexit, was narrowly rejected on Tuesday night.

Updated: January 30, 2019 09:02 PM

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