The European Union’s (EU) chief Brexit negotiator has said there can be no “time limit” on the UK staying locked in the bloc’s Customs Union if a trade deal is not struck before the end of the “transition period.”
Hardliner Michel Barnier was characteristically belligerent, insisting that the “backstop means backstop” and there is “still a real point of divergence” on the Northern Ireland issue.
He was speaking in Slovakia just hours after Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly proposed a “review mechanism” which would allow the UK to leave the backstop at some point.
Brexiteers are increasingly worried the backstop will keep the UK tied to the EU and many of its rules indefinitely, with the bloc insisting there is no way to keep the Irish border open and allow the UK to have different trade policies.
According to the Express, Mr Barnier told reporters Tuesday: “Today, we’re not there yet. The clock is still ticking and we will continue the work.
“Choices have to be made on the British side to finalise this deal. Frankly, we don’t have the advantage of a lot more time.”
Strong common commitment to work for orderly withdrawal, which must include all-weather backstop for IE/NI, and ambitious future relationship.
We are not there yet. pic.twitter.com/jAdZX587c5
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) November 6, 2018
“We are not yet there, we have more work to do,” he added in response to questions on new British demands.
“I don’t want to go into the details, we’re willing to consider improvements to the backstop but we need to reach an agreement for this backstop and we need a genuine backstop, an operational backstop to the point.
“Backstop means backstop. And a backstop cannot have a time limit.
“We always said a backstop will stay in place unless and until another solution is found in the context of the future relationship.”
The Brexit secretary Dominic Raab had initially wanted the UK to be able to leave the backstop unilaterally, but both Mrs May and the Irish Foreign Minister rejected this.
However, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said that Dublin was open to the idea of a “review mechanism” for the backstop, which could put him in conflict with Mr Barnier.