Barclay to brief Cabinet on latest Brexit negotiations
The Brexit Secretary is said to have had a ‘productive’ meeting with the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is to brief the Cabinet on his latest talks with Brussels amid continuing deadlock over the Northern Ireland backstop.
Mr Barclay was said to have had a “productive” discussion with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the Belgian capital on Monday.
However, it appeared that they were no closer to resolving the fraught issue of the backstop – intended to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland – which remains the main stumbling block to an agreement.
The Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) confirmed they discussed the so-called “Malthouse compromise” being worked on by Tory MPs in the Alternative Arrangements Working Group.
Productive conversations with @MichelBarnier, with a commitment to work together to solve the backstop. I’ll update my colleagues in Cabinet tomorrow.— Steve Barclay MP (@SteveBarclay) February 18, 2019
However there appeared to be little enthusiasm for the proposals – intended to replace the backstop with a basic free trade deal combined with technological solutions to avoid the need for physical border checks – on the EU side.
“While the commission engaged seriously with these proposals it expressed concerns about their viability to resolve the backstop,” a DExEU spokesman said .
“We agreed to keep exploring the use of alternative arrangements – especially how they might be developed to ensure the absence of a hard border in Northern Ireland on a permanent footing, avoiding the need for the backstop to ever enter force.”
Mr Barclay’s meeting with Mr Barnier – with Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also present – came ahead of expected talks between Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
In an indication of the uncertainty, Mr Juncker did not rule out the possibility that delays to Brexit could result in the UK still being in the EU at the time of May’s European elections and participating in the vote.
He told German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung that such a scenario was “difficult to imagine”, saying it would be a “belated joke of history”.
Meanwhile it is reported that a group of Cabinet ministers has urged the Prime Minister to stop using the threat of a no-deal Brexit has a negotiating tactic.
Business Secretary Greg Clark, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Scottish Secretary David Mundell warned Mrs May businesses now need certainty the UK will not leave the EU without a deal in place, according to The Guardian.
There was no immediate comment on the report from No 10.
The report comes after rebel Tory MPs last week inflicted another damaging Commons defeat on Mrs May’s Brexit proposals, heightening fears among some in business of a no-deal break.
Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is stepping up his call to the Prime Minister to re-think her negotiating “red lines” and back Labour’s proposals for a customs union with the EU.
The Tories are bungling Brexit while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan. When millions face the misery of Universal Credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) February 18, 2019
The Labour leader, who is addressing the EEF employers group manufacturing conference, said he would be travelling to Brussels later this week to discuss the plan with Mr Barnier.
In his speech, Mr Corbyn is expected to say: “Earlier this month I wrote to the Prime Minister laying out Labour’s alternative Brexit plan, based around a permanent customs union with a British say in future trade deals, a strong relationship with the single market and full guarantees on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections.
“It’s a plan that could win the support of Parliament and help bring the country together.
“It has been widely welcomed as a way of breaking the impasse. So I call on the Government and MPs across Parliament to end the Brexit uncertainty and back Labour’s credible alternative plan.”