Ireland will not be sacrificed in Brexit deal, EU commissioner says

Margrethe Vestager asserts Europe is unwavering in its support for the backstop

EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager says there is no guarantee removing the backstop element of the proposed deal will unlock the Westminster logjam. Photograph: Alan Betson

EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager says there is no guarantee removing the backstop element of the proposed deal will unlock the Westminster logjam. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Ireland will not be sacrificed by the EU in its efforts to broker a Brexit deal with the UK, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has said.

Amid concerns the proposed backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland may be watered down to facilitate the UK, Ms Vestager said the EU stood firmly behind Ireland on the issue.

“The good thing is the 100 per cent, never wavering, no hesitation solidarity with the Irish situation and the Irish people,” she told The Irish Times on a visit to Dublin.

She also claimed there was no guarantee that removing the backstop element of the proposed deal would unlock the current Westminster logjam. “Before they [UK MPs] voted on the full deal, they had a vote on leaving without the backstop and that was lost with an even greater majority against it,” Ms Vestager said. “It’s up to the British on where they go next,” she said.

The backstop element of the proposed withdrawal agreement has been a major sticking point for Brexiteers, who fear the EU will use it to extract concessions after the UK leaves.

No-deal exit

British prime minister Theresa May believes getting rid of it or placing limitations on its implementation could garner support for the agreement and avoid a no-deal exit.

“From our side we hope to have an orderly, managed Brexit for the good of everyone. Of course we’ll prepare if that cannot happen,” Ms Vestager said.

Fears that a hard border is unavoidable in the absence of a deal have grown in recent weeks amid equivocating comments from EU officials.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier appeared to back peddle this week on previous claims that a no-deal Brexit would “obviously” lead to the imposition of a hard border, suggesting there may be other ways of carrying out border checks.

Technological border

Ms Vestager echoed the same sentiment, suggesting technology to avoid traditional border posts and customs checks might be used.

During her visit, she held talks with Minister for Business Heather Humphreys on how Brexit-hit businesses here could be supported.

While not ruling out the possibility of Ireland receiving a special derogation from the EU state aid rules, Ms Vestager said there were a number of supports within the current regulatory framework that could be accessed.

However, employers’ group Ibec said the current rescue and restructuring guidelines for supporting businesses in distress were only for firms on the brink of financial collapse and would come too late for many Irish firms caught in the crosshairs of Brexit.

EU state aid rules were suspended in 2008 and 2009 to allow France and Germany and other member states support indigenous industries hit by the financial crisis.

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