By Anthony Neeson
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has rejected British government calls to remove the border Backstop.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has demanded the backstop be removed in any withdrawal deal between the UK and EU.
The backstop is aimed at ensuring an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
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Writing in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Mr. Barnier said: “On the EU side, we had 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 added: “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.
“Uncertainty has festered for far too long in the UK, in particular in Northern Ireland, as well as in Ireland and all other EU countries, for that matter.”
Tánaiste and minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, meanwhile, has said that Boris Johnson has produced no credible alternative to the backstop.
Speaking in Helsinki, Mr. Coveney said: “There is no country that wants a deal more than Ireland.”
He added: “At the moment nothing credible has come from the British government in the context of an alternative to the backstop. If that changes, great, we will look at it in Dublin, but more importantly it can be the basis of a discussion in Brussels.
“But it has got to be credible. It can’t simply be this notion that ‘look, we must have the backstop removed and we will solve this problem in the future negotiation’ without any credible way of doing that.”
Separately, and speaking back in Ireland, the Tánaiste has played down speculation in the British media of a last-minute Brexit deal at a European Council meeting next month.
Mr. Coveney, speaking in Millstreet, County Cork, said he doesn’t see how a meeting of the European Council of Ministers on October 17 could redesign an agreement of the complexity of the current withdrawal agreement which took over two-and-a-half years to finalize.
According to the Irish Examiner, Coveney insisted that the current withdrawal agreement is the best way forward and that removing the backstop – which was a crucial part of the balance and compromise of the agreement – in the absence of workable alternatives just isn’t an option.
But even in a no-deal scenario, he said the border issue, the financial settlement and citizens’ rights issues will still have to be addressed.
Earlier, Mr. Coveney stated that the Irish government wasn’t in the business of acting for Boris Johnson’s “political convenience.”
Meanwhile, Congressman Peter King, writing in this issue of the Echo (Page 8) argues that the Brexit debate as it is currently formulated threatens to undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Rep. King, long the leading member of his party on Irish issues, warns that a future trade deal between the U.S. and UK would depend on the GFA being protected post-Brexit.