HELSINKI (Reuters) – The British government has not made concrete or credible proposals on replacing the Irish border backstop arrangement in its Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Friday.
London said on Friday that British and EU negotiators will hold twice-weekly talks next month to rework the Withdrawal Agreement, which the UK parliament has repeatedly rejected due mainly to opposition to the backstop.
Britain is currently due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, something Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would do with or without an agreement in place to settle the divorce.
“We all want to get a deal but, at the moment, nothing credible has come from the UK government in terms of alternatives to the backstop,” Coveney told reporters on arriving for talks with his EU peers. “There is no country that wants a deal more than Ireland”.
“But that deal has to be based on the Withdrawal Agreement and has to be consistent with that,” he added.
Johnson says he must have the backstop – a mechanism that would keep the sensitive Irish border open after Brexit by tying Britain to EU trading rules – removed to convince the UK parliament to ratify the deal.
The EU has said it is willing to listen to London’s ideas.
“If there are alternatives to the backstop that do the same job, well then let’s hear them. And if we can work out a deal on that basis, so be it,” Coveney said. “But it’s got to be credible.”
“It cannot simply be this notion that we must have the backstop removed and we’ll solve this problem in the future negotiations, without any credible way of doing that. That’s not going to fly.”
His Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg colleagues expressed concern over the threat of a no-deal Brexit after Johnson’s government moved to suspend the UK parliament, causing outrage among opposition lawmakers and many others in Britain.
Arriving to the same gathering in Helsinki, British foreign minister Dominic Raab said that accusations that his manoeuvre was a constitutional outrage were “nonsense”.
Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in BRUSSELS, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Hugh Lawson