EU is revising ‘backstop’ protocol to ensure Brexit deal

Officials are reportedly redrafting the provision to ease British fears over union

File photograph of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, Belgium. File photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

File photograph of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, Belgium. File photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

European Union officials are working on redrafting the Irish protocol for the draft Brexit treaty with Britain, as part of what EU negotiator Michel Barnier has called efforts to “de-dramatise” the issue and get a deal, EU officials said on Wednesday.

Officials and diplomats close to the negotiations told Reuters previously this month that work was under way to find wording that could ease British fears that the “backstop” provision to avoid a hard Border for Northern Ireland following Brexit would pull the province away from its constitutional anchor to the UK.

British officials have said their problems with the EU-proposed backstop go beyond language and point out that prime minister Theresa May’s Northern Irish allies, strong supporters of the union with Britain, will not be easily mollified.

“We are willing to look at how we can de-dramatise the problem,” one EU official said. “We are willing to improve [the draft protocol].”

Another said work was now fully under way on a new text before Ms May meets the other EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg next week.

However, as Mr Barnier’s boss, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament earlier on Wednesday, the EU is not willing to go along with British proposals that it believes would give UK business a free-ride back-door entry to the EU single market, or to let the Republic suffer as a result of Brexit.

At the same time, Mr Juncker stressed, the EU was looking to forge a very close partnership with Britain. – Reuters