Belfast Telegraph

Brexit talks fail to make breakthrough on Irish backstop, says EU

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says discussions with UK ministers to resolve the deadlock are proving ‘difficult’.

Michel Barnier (Niall Carson/PA)
Michel Barnier (Niall Carson/PA)

The latest talks aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock over the Northern Ireland backstop have failed to achieve a breakthrough, the European Commission has said.

The commission said there was still “no solution” to the impasse after the meeting on Tuesday in Brussels between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

The meeting took place as Theresa May prepared for next week’s crunch “meaningful vote” in the Commons on her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The Prime Minister has said she wants legally binding changes to the backstop – intended to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland – to ensure the UK is not tied to EU rules indefinitely, in order to convince MPs to back her deal.

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Attorney General Geoffrey Cox held talks with Michel Barnier on Tuesday (Jonathan Brady/PA)

However, Mr Barnier told the weekly meeting of the College of Commissioners in Brussels that the negotiations were proving “difficult” and a way forward had not been found.

The commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters: “Michel Barnier was present and informed the commissioners that while the talks take place in a constructive atmosphere, discussions have been difficult.

“No solution has been identified at this point that is consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, including the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland which, as you all know, will not be reopened.”

Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has refused to rule out backing a no-deal Brexit if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down by MPs next week.

Dr Fox, who campaigned for Leave in the 2016 referendum, told the Commons International Trade Committee that no-deal was “hugely sub-optimal, compared to getting a deal”.

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(PA Graphics)

But asked whether the Government would back no-deal in the vote scheduled for the following day if the agreement fails, he said: “Potentially all things are possible.”

With Tory Brexiteers still refusing to commit to voting for the agreement, ministers have acknowledged they may need the support of opposition MPs if the deal is to get through Parliament on Tuesday.

However the latest attempt to win over wavering Labour MPs with new measures to protect workers’ rights outside the EU has met with a dismissive response from trade unions.

Under the proposals, MPs will be allowed to vote on whether to take new EU workplace rules, rather than them being automatically written into UK law.

However union leaders warned the measures will risk UK employees’ rights falling behind those in neighbouring countries.

Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said the announcement was “blatant window dressing” that left protections under threat.

“Working people need a cast-iron, legal guarantee that rights like these will be safe after Brexit, and that guarantee should be written into the deal,” she said.

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