While the European Commission leaves the ball in London’s court in regards to the now-deadlocked Brexit negotiations, Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz has suggested that the contentious Irish border issue could be solved if the backstop were time-limited to five years.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council, Czaputowicz said that he discussed the idea with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and that the issue had been brought during his visits to London and Dublin prior to a vote by the British House of Commons, which overwhelmingly rejected the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.
The Polish politician’s comments raised concerns among the EU-27 leaders as his temporary backstop proposal is a major break from the bloc’s strategy of applying pressure to the British government to agree on a backstop that does not include a specific final date.
Czaputowicz also underlined how bold actions are needed and that his proposal was presented to the UK and Irish government in December.
“If Ireland asked the EU to change the backstop arrangements in the withdrawal agreement so that it’s temporary, say for five years, it would be solved,” said Czaputowicz. “Obviously, that would be less beneficial for Ireland than an indefinite backstop, but much better than a no deal Brexit which is unavoidably coming our way”.
According to what Czaputowicz underlined during his comments, the EU has become hostage to Ireland’s government position in the negotiations. “The Irish also gave a pretext to treat the British harshly. Arguably, they thought the UK would at some point agree to an indefinite backstop,” but this did not happen. “Now we have a game of chicken with two cars heading towards each other,” added Czaputowicz, who said this will inevitably mean a process that will lead to a hard border.
Earlier, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that the bloc would work together as one team to negotiate Brexit, ruling out a bilateral agreement between the UK and Ireland to remove the backstop from the withdrawal agreement.
Barnier also dismissed reports that such a deal could be negotiated and reiterated that the current deal that is on the table is the only one possible. As to what would change, Barnier added that the EU was willing to work again on the political declaration.