EU says it will not renegotiate Brexit deal

EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

The's EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Parliament in Brussels, January 30, 2019.

EU says it will not renegotiate Brexit deal


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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was unequivocal in his message to UK Prime Minister Theresa May on January 30, telling the embattled British leader that bloc’s divorce deal with the United Kingdom will not be renegotiated under any circumstances.

“The Withdrawal Agreement remains the best and only deal possible,” Juncker told European deputies in Brussels a day after the British House of Commons rejected another attempt by May to force through an extension of the period of talks past the March 29 Brexit deadline.
“The debates and votes in the House of Commons will not change that. The Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated,” added Juncker, who also said,  “Yesterday’s vote increased the risk of a disorderly withdrawal,” and that the EU needs to be ready “for all scenarios, including the worst”.
According to Juncker, the EU and UK could still find a way to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but that they need to act quickly. “There is still time,” said Juncker. “I am still an optimist by nature.”
The single most important issue in the agreement remains the fate of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Known as the “Irish backstop”, Juncker said it must remain in the agreement “as an insurance against the return of a hard border” or Ireland could, again, “slip back into darker times of the past” – a reference to the bloody 30-year-old conflict between Republican Catholics and Protestant Unionists that came to an end in 1998.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, also took time out to slam the British government and accuse May of violating the spirit of an agreement that she helped draft.

“She took distance (sic) from an agreement (that) she herself negotiated and one with which we had agreed,” Barnier said, before adding that the UK government was “explicitly supporting” calls for a change to the deal where the backstop would be replaced by alternative arrangements that were never defined in the negotiations.

By Barnier’s assessment, the agreement on the table remains the only “lucid and realistic” approach. At this point, Barnier took the opportunity to take aim at both of May’s former Brexit secretaries, Dominic Raab and David Davis, whom he said were trying to lay the blame for the current situation on Brussels.

“When I hear some people who were even part and parcel of the negotiations saying what they’re saying, it’s tough. I find it hard to accept this blame game they’re trying to play against us,” said Barnier. Earlier in the day, Barnier had met with the European Parliament’s lead negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, who also said that the Irish backstop is not up for discussion.

Verhofstadt, one of the EU’s most vociferous defenders, did not, however, close the door on the possibility of discussing with the UK the future relationship between the two sides.

The European Institutions will now wait for the UK’s next move. EU officials have also said that they do not expect May to arrive in Brussels for more discussions in the coming weeks without a better hand to play in any future talks.

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