Barnier ‘not optimistic’ about avoiding no-deal Brexit
Backstop is ‘maximum flexibility’ on offer for non-member state, says top EU negotiator
Michel Barnier: ‘I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario.’ Photograph: Saul Loebsaul/AFP/Getty Images
The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario as the EU could not meet Britain’s demands that the backstop for the Irish Border is removed from the withdrawal agreement.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Barnier said that the so-called backstop had to stay to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market while ensuring an open border on the island of Ireland.
“I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario, but we should all continue to work with determination,” Mr Barnier said.
“The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.”
British prime minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31st. Opposition politicians plan to act next week to stop no-deal in parliament.
Writing in the same newspaper, Mr Johnson’s de facto deputy Michael Gove said that to remove the option of a no-deal Brexit on October 31st would “diminish” the “chances of securing changes” to the Brexit deal that could get it passed through parliament.
Meanwhile, Mrs Johnson has launched a war of words against would-be Tory Brexit rebels.
As Downing Street ratcheted-up the rhetoric, ministers branded a cross-party alliance of MPs seeking to prevent a no-deal Brexit as “deceitful and underhand”.
Tory politicians like ex-chancellor Philip Hammond reacted angrily to claims Conservative MPs voting against a no-deal option when parliament returns this week could be barred from standing in a snap general election.
In his first newspaper interview since becoming prime minister in July, Mr Johnson told the Sunday Times: “I just say to everybody in the country, including everyone in parliament, the fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum?
“Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people — and plunge this country into chaos.”
The comments came ahead of an expected Commons clash on Tuesday when opponents of no- deal look set to try and seize control of the parliamentary agenda to push through legislation that would force Mr Johnson to seek a Brexit extension from Brussels beyond October 31st.
Staunch Johnson ally and Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, strongly attacked such an action.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “They dare not use the confidence procedures because they know that Jeremy Corbyn is too unpopular, and therefore they seek deceitful ends by underhand means.”
Reports that any bid to extend Brexit to stop a no-deal exit would be treated as a no confidence issue, with supporting Tory MPs stopped from standing for the party, drew a harsh response from Mr Hammond.
The ex-chancellor tweeted: “If true, this would be staggeringly hypocritical: 8 members of the current cabinet have defied the party whip this year.
“I want to honour our 2017 manifesto which promised a ‘smooth and orderly’ exit and a ‘deep and special partnership’ with the EU.
“Not an undemocratic No Deal.”
A British government spokesperson said: “All options for party management are under consideration, but first and foremost the PM hopes MPs will deliver on the referendum result and back him on parliament.”
Some 20 Tory former ministers are considering standing at the next election as independent Conservatives rather than back a no-deal option, the Sunday Times said.
Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against Mr Johnson’s plans to suspend parliament for up to five weeks ahead of the return of MPs from their summer recess.