Withdrawal agreement ‘will not be renegotiated’, Barnier tells MEPs

Withdrawal agreement ‘will not be renegotiated’, Barnier tells MEPs

THE EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the withdrawal agreement will not be renegotiated, despite last night’s Commons vote.

MPs yesterday backed an amendment to the agreement calling on Theresa May to renegotiate with Europe to seek ‘alternative arrangements’ to the backstop.

However speaking at the European Parliament today, Barnier said the vote did not rule out the possibility of a no deal and the backstop would remain.

'Best and only means'

“We share the will of the UK parliament to avoid a no deal,” Barnier told MEPs.

“I agree with Theresa May, voting against a no deal, as happened yesterday, does not rule out the risk of a no deal.

“For us, the withdrawal agreement remains the best and only means to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK.

“The backstop is part and parcel of the withdrawal agreement and this agreement will not be renegotiated.”

He added: “Right here and now, quite honestly, no one on one side or the other can say very clearly and precisely what form these alternative arrangements will take so they can be operational and they can objectively meet the aims of the backstop.

"Calmly and clearly, I will say right here and now, with this withdrawal agreement proposed for ratification – we need this backstop as it is.

“Rejecting the backstop as it stands today boils down to rejecting the solution, which has been found with the British. But the problem remains.”

'There are no alternatives'

Tánaiste Simon Coveney was equally skeptical about the so-called ‘alternative arrangements’ to the backstop, saying none had been put forward in two years of negotiating.

Speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs today, he said: “There are currently no alternative arrangements, which anybody has put forward, which achieve what both sides are determined to achieve – to avoid a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks or controls, and protect the all-island economy, north-south co-operation and the Good Friday Agreement.

“Believe me, this has been explored endlessly in the negotiations over the last two years.

“We have seen no alternative arrangements that meet this essential threshold. We need a backstop or insurance mechanism based on legal certainty, and not just wishful thinking.”