Belfast Telegraph

No Brexit agreement without border solution says Barnier as UK stress backstop must go

Maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is key to any Brexit deal (Brian Lawless/PA)
Maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is key to any Brexit deal (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier has stressed that any Brexit agreement must include a solution to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

Mr Barnier made the comments in a meeting with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Friday, the European Commission has said.

Negotiations are ongoing in Brussels to try and reach a Brexit deal, with the UK currently on course to crash out on October 31 without a deal.

MPs have passed a bill, referred to by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the 'surrender act', forcing him to ask the EU for a Brexit extension if no agreement is reached by the deadline.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has said that there is no "serious proposal" on the table from the UK to replace the backstop.

After meeting Mr Barnier on Friday he said that "significant gaps" remain in the negotiations between the UK and the EU.

He said that the EU remained "available 24/7 to negotiate to try and get a deal done".

When asked about a possible extension Mr Coveney said that the EU's main focus was on trying to reach a deal.

"From an Irish perspective, we of course think that an extension is preferable to a no-deal. But I think there would have to be good reason behind that to ask for an extension," the Irish Foreign Minister said.

"Until there is a serious proposal, which can be the basis of negotiations, then the gaps which are wide at the moment will remain."

He called on Mr Johnson and his team to put "serious proposals on the table".

The European Commission released a statement following Mr Barnier's meeting with the Brexit Secretary.

"Michel Barnier stressed that it is essential that there is a fully operational solution in the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, protect the all-island economy and the integrity of the Single Market," the statement read.

"The EU remains open and willing to examine any workable and legally operative proposals that meet all these objectives."

Mr Barclay said that the "moment of truth" is approaching in the negotiations.

Following the meeting with Mr Barnier he said that an agreement was still possible, but that the Northern Ireland backstop had to go.

Michel Barnier, EU Chief Negotiator for Brexit and Tanaiste Simon Coveney.
Michel Barnier, EU Chief Negotiator for Brexit and Tanaiste Simon Coveney.

"There is still a long way to go. I think we are coming to a moment of truth in these negotiations. We will see if there is political will on both sides," he said.

"We are committed to securing a deal. We are committed to leaving on October 31, but that deal has to be without the backstop.

"Parliament has rejected the backstop three times. I have been very clear with Michel Barnier in the negotiations, the backstop has to go. But with good will on both sides a deal can be done."

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