EU still waiting for UK proposals on Irish backstop

EU still waiting for UK proposals on Irish backstop
Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier speaking at the Brexit debate in the European Parliament © EP

While technical talks are going on between EU and UK to avoid a no-deal Brexit, UK has not yet proposed any alternative solutions to the backstop that might advance the talks. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned yesterday that time is running out and that the risk of a no-deal Brexit remains very real.

A working lunch on Monday in Luxembourg with Juncker, assisted by the Commission´s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and British Prime-Minister Boris Johnson did not result in any breakthrough in the talks. After the lunch, Juncker recalled that it is the UK's responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement.

At today press briefing in Brussels, a Commission spokesperson said that the Commission has received "documents" from the UK, without confirming whether they included proposals on  the backstop.

In his speech on Wednesday (18 September) to the European Parliament, Juncker said that leaving the EU without any deal might be the choice of the British government but will never be the choice of the EU. He underlined that the main issue is the so-called backstop, a “safety net” intended to avoid a hard border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, a part of UK.

The backstop has three objectives: To avoid a physical border on the Irish island, to preserve the integrity of the single market, and to keep the peace and protect the Good Friday Agreement. Chief negotiator Barnier explained in some detail to the European Parliament why the backstop, which the British government wants to revoke or replace, is so important.

“It is the only place where the UK has a land border with the European Union. And there is a specific political situation there, linked to an often-tragic history, and a specific political situation settled by the Good Friday Agreement, of which the United Kingdom and Ireland are co-guarantors,” he said.

“We need legally operational solutions in the Withdrawal Agreement to reply precisely to each of these problems and to prevent the risks that Brexit creates.”

He gave one concrete example: any live animal, or any food product, that enters Northern Ireland coming from Great Britain enters immediately and mechanically not only Ireland but also other EU Member States markets. “We need to control this to protect our consumers, protect food safety and to prevent any animal health risks.”

According to the backstop, the whole of UK will continue to be included in the customs union with EU until a solution is found to the dilemma of keeping an open border on the Irish island and protecting the internal market.

Countering Johnson’s claim that the backstop is non-democratic, Barnier said that it is up to the British government to ensure that it has the support of the Northern-Irish institutions and to involve them in the implementation of the backstop, if it were ever to be used.

That said, he reminded the European Parliament, and the British government, not to lose sight of the big picture and the need of an orderly withdrawal.

“We want this agreement to protect the rights of the 4.5 million European citizens in the UK and British citizens in the 27 Member States. We want to secure the future of beneficiaries of EU funds. We want to guarantee peace and stability in Ireland. And at the end of the road, we want to create the necessary conditions of trust so that we can build our future relationship, as outlined in the Political Declaration.”

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