EU willing to give May assurances backstop not intended as permanent

Juncker says there is ‘no room whatsoever’ for renegotiation of the withdrawal treaty

European leaders have signalled to British prime minister Theresa May a willingness to provide assurances that the Irish Border backstop is not intended to be a permanent solution, but ruled out any prospect of renegotiating the withdrawal treaty.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday said the EU would work on "giving the UK assurances that it may need, but never compromising on the basic fundamental substance and written letter of the backstop".

He said there was “resolute and overwhelming European support that the backstop has to remain part of a withdrawal agreement. It is not just an Irish issue, but an issue for Europe too, and the integrity of the single market which we are all part of.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel also ruled out renegotiating the EU-UK treaty, but in talks with Mrs May in Berlin expressed optimism that further "securities" could be agreed with London to avoid a hard Brexit.


Dr Merkel said the backstop was clearly the main bone of contention, and it was essential to examine the case for further assurances for the UK in the interim phase between full EU membership and post-membership.

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said there was “no room whatsoever for renegotiation” of the withdrawal treaty. “The deal we achieved is the best deal possible, it is the only deal possible.”

However, Mr Juncker said that “further clarifications were possible”.

European capitals

Mrs May was due to visit Dublin on Wednesday evening for talks with the Taoiseach as she continues her tour of European capitals in a bid to win assurances that would help her overcome opposition to the treaty in advance of this week’s summit of European leaders in Brussels.

However, she now faces of a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons, and a challenge to her from within the Conservative Party and with the vote taking place on this tonight she will not travel to Dublin.

Meanwhile, a no-deal Brexit could almost halve Irish economic growth next year, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has warned.

In its latest economic commentary, the ESRI found that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and assuming World Trade Organisation rules then apply, this would curtail growth here to 2.6 per cent compared to 4.2 per cent in the absence of Brexit.

The ESRI also warned that the forecast probably understated the full impact of a no-deal Brexit on the Irish economy as it assumed a smooth adjustment, which was “probably unrealistic”.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin