EU negotiator, Council chief tell May: No renegotiation
Updated 09:08, 31-Jan-2019
CGTN
00:28

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator told Britain on Wednesday that time was too short to find an alternative to the Irish border arrangement agreed in their divorce deal, as London wants, and that this deal was not open for renegotiation.

With only two months left before Britain is due by law to leave the European Union, a narrow majority in the British parliament instructed the Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday to go back to Brussels to revise what is arguably the most intractable part of the deal.

Michel Barnier said that the two-year divorce negotiations had looked for an alternative to the “Irish backstop”, designed to ensure that the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, long a scene of sectarian violence, remains free of border posts.

“No one, on either side, was able to say what arrangement would be needed to ensure controls on goods, animals, and merchandise without having a border,” Barnier said. “We have neither the time nor the technologies.”

Irish PM rejects May plans to change backstop

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told May he would not accept her plans to renegotiate a post-Brexit arrangement for the Irish border and said the so-called Irish “backstop” needed to be legally robust.

European Council President Donald Tusk (L) and British Prime Minister Theresa May talk during the extraordinary EU leaders summit to finalize and formalize the Brexit agreement in Brussels, Belgium, November 25, 2018. /VCG Photo

European Council President Donald Tusk (L) and British Prime Minister Theresa May talk during the extraordinary EU leaders summit to finalize and formalize the Brexit agreement in Brussels, Belgium, November 25, 2018. /VCG Photo

“The Taoiseach set out once again the unchanged Irish and EU position on the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop, noting that the latest developments had reinforced the need for a backstop which is legally robust and workable in practice,” a spokesman for Irish government said after the two leaders spoke by phone.

Tusk: Withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation

The 11th-hour uncertainty leaves Britain's investors and allies trying to gauge whether the crisis will end up in a deal, a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit on March 29, a delay, or no Brexit at all.

In essence, May will use the implicit threat of a "no-deal" Brexit to seek a deal from the other 27 members of the EU, the whose combined economy is about six times the size of Britain's.

But the European response has been united, and blunt.

“The Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted in what he said was a message to May. “Yesterday, we found out what the UK doesn't want. But we still don't know what the UK does want.”

EU officials said Tusk and May had 45 minutes of "frank" discussion. Tusk stressed that it is up to May to come back to EU with a proposal that she can convince the EU will get a majority in Parliament.

EU leaders in December simply did not believe May could get a majority if they gave her what she wanted and so they did not budge. For them to move now, she will have to show them that anything they give will be the final deal and it will be accepted.

May indicated that she understood this but gave no indication of what she might ask for nor of the timeline for her next steps, although she indicated that meetings in Brussels would be useful at some stage, the officials said.

Tusk made clear that it is up to the UK to come up with solutions, not the EU.

(With inputs from Reuters)