Friday, 19 April, 2019


Brexit deal: Jean-Claude Juncker reconfirms the Withdrawal Agreement can not be renegotiated

People take part in an anti Brexit rally at the Irish border People take part in an anti Brexit rally at the Irish border
Conrad Doyle | 31 January, 2019, 16:48

European Union leader Jean-Claude Juncker warned Wednesday (Jan 30) that the British parliament's decision to demand changes to the Brexit withdrawal deal had increased the risk of a messy "no deal" divorce.

An attempt by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper and Conservative Nick Boles to give parliament the power to request a delay to Britain's March 29 exit was defeated by lawmakers on Tuesday, but Boles said he would renew that effort on February 14 if a deal has not been passed by then.

As for the non-binding amendment saying there can not be a no-deal Brexit, the only way to put that into effect would be to cancel Brexit, or to get a majority to back the existing deal-which seems deeply unlikely at this point.

The winning amendment calls for the backstop to be replaced with "alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border" - vague wording that did not pin May to any specific approach.

But May's victory on Tuesday may be short lived.

"The withdrawal agreement will not be renegotiated", Juncker told MEPs in Brussels, adding that the European Union has been saying so since November, when European Union leaders adopted the deal in agreement with the United Kingdom government.

Coveney also challenged May to stand by previous statements that the backstop was necessary to rule out a return of checks between British-run Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland. But that has to be an agreement that gains the support of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who had refused to hold talks on Brexit with May, said after the vote on Tuesday night that he was now prepared to meet with her.

While the European Union has repeatedly refused to reopen the divorce deal, European Union sources said additional clarifications, statements or assurances on the backstop might be possible. "The withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation".

Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors said: "The prime minister clearly faces a hard task in winning a compromise on the backstop".

British lawmakers on Tuesday approved a proposal calling on the government to prevent a no-deal exit, sending a signal that a majority opposes it.

Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said "the dynamic did change" with the vote, but offered no specifics on what the alternative arrangements might involve, saying London was looking at technological solutions, time limits and exit clauses.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said Mr Blackford's comments were "reckless" and that his party would work with Theresa May to "deliver the right thing to the UK".

A Labour bid to delay Brexit and seize control of parliamentary business to block a no-deal outcome was defeated, with a handful of rebel Labour MPs tipping the balance.

May's spokesman said she had been aware that "this wasn't going to be an easy process" but that: "What the vote has actually done is set out what parliament requires in order to be able to pass this vote".

Juncker called on British lawmakers to make clear what they want.

"But we still don't know what exactly the House of Commons is for".

"There will be a price to pay, but the calculus made on this side of the Channel is the price of hurting the integrity of the single market will be bigger, and if we have a choice to make between two evils, then no deal is the lesser evil", he said.

Jill Lawless reported from London.

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