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Stop pretending to negotiate, Barnier tells UK

Stop pretending to negotiate, Barnier tells UK

Michel Barnier - Photo © European Union 2019 - Source EP

(STRASBOURG) - Three years after the Brexit referendum, rather than pretending to negotiate, the UK needs to come up with legally binding solutions to the backstop problem, the EU's chief negotiator said Wednesday.

Speaking at a European Parliament debate on Brexit progress, Michel Barnier told MEPs he understood that the crucial demand of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is to remove the backstop, or at least to replace it.

But the importance of the backstop was not based on ideology, he said: "It is about a safety net, an insurance policy that allows us to preserve the following three demands: no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, protecting the Good Friday Agreement "in all its dimensions"; preserving the integrity of the Single Market; and maintaining the "all-island economy" and North-South cooperation.

M Barnier said it was not good enough to explain why the backstop needs to be removed. The EU needed "legally operational solutions in the Withdrawal Agreement to reply precisely to each of these problems and to prevent the risks that Brexit creates."

Following their debate, MEPs in a resolution reiterated Parliament's support for an "orderly Brexit", and agreed that the Withdrawal Agreement, which takes into account the UK's red lines and the EU's principles, was "fair, balanced and provides legal certainty".

The Agreement, the Parliament said, safeguards the rights and life choices of European and British citizens, provides a financial settlement mechanism for the UK's obligations, and addresses the UK's request for a transition period. In addition, the Withdrawal Agreement provides a necessary backstop mechanism to safeguard the status quo in Ireland by protecting the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring North-South cooperation.

MEPs confirmed, however, that they would be ready to return to the EU's original proposal for a Northern Ireland-only backstop; they were also open to examining "alternative solutions" if they are legally and operationally credible and in line with EU guiding principles. However, on the main point they were clear: they will not consent to a Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop.

MEPs stressed that all responsibility for a "no-deal" exit would be laid at the UK's door, as well as the "serious consequences" this would entail.

Parliament also emphasised that a "no-deal" scenario would not remove the UK's obligations and commitments on financial settlements, protection of citizens' rights, and compliance with the Good Friday Agreement, which are necessary preconditions for Parliament's approval of any future relationship between the EU and the UK.

Further information, European Parliament

Adopted text will be available here (18.09.2019)

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