Brexit: Guy Verhofstadt savages ‘irresponsible’ Boris Johnson as MEPs vow to veto his plan to ditch backstop

Parliament's Brexit steering group says backstop is not up for renegotiation

Jon Stone
Wednesday 24 July 2019 13:07
Countdown to Brexit: How many days left until Britain leaves the EU?

The European parliament has vowed to block Boris Johnson’s plan to ditch the Irish backstop from the Brexit withdrawal agreement – warning that it is not up for negotiation.

Guy Verhofstadt, chair of the parliament’s Brexit steering group, blasted the new prime minister’s “irresponsible” claims during the Tory leadership contest which he argued had increased the risk of no deal.

After a meeting of the legislature’s steering group, MEPs said in a statement that an orderly exit was “only possible if citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the backstop, that in all circumstances ensures no hardening of the border on the island of Ireland, safeguards the Good Friday Agreement and protects the integrity of the single market, are guaranteed”.

It noted that any withdrawal agreement would “require the European parliament’s consent”.

Mr Johnson has vowed to ditch the backstop, which Theresa May negotiated as a way of preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He has threatened to withhold payments owed by the UK to the EU to bring the bloc back to the table – but EU leaders have repeatedly said since last year that they will not change the agreement.

Commenting after the meeting, Mr Verhofstadt, who represents the parliament in Brexit discussions, turned his fire on Mr Johnson and the Tory leadership contest.

“Politicised language from the Conservative leadership raising the spectre of a no-deal Brexit is unhelpful, irresponsible and only increases the risks of a catastrophic severance, which could destabilise the global economy,” he said.

Recalling comments the new prime minister had made, he said: “Boris Johnson will find the European parliament an open and constructive partner. I look forward to alleviating Mr Johnson’s concerns regarding the imminent accession of Turkey to the EU, following the claims of the Leave campaign, whilst explaining the EU has no rules on the packaging of kippers in the UK.”

Mr Verhofstadt said the withdrawal agreement was “not up for renegotiation” but repeated the longstanding EU position that a separate accord spelling out plans for the future relationship could be added to soften Brexit – with something like a customs union or single market membership.

Also speaking after the steering group meeting European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU would be ready for no deal.

“It’s a very important moment for Brexit,” he said. “We look forward to hearing what the new prime minister Boris Johnson wants, what are the choices of the UK.

“Is it an orderly Brexit? This is the choice, the preference of the EU and we have worked for an orderly Brexit all along the last three years. Is it a no-deal Brexit? A no-deal Brexit will never be, never, the choice of the EU. But we are prepared.

“And for an orderly Brexit we will work along the next few weeks and months with the new UK government in the best possible way in a very constructive spirit to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement.”

The European Commission reiterated its longstanding position on Tuesday after Mr Johnson’s election as Tory leader, saying the EU would stand by the withdrawal agreement and that its view was “clear”. One EU commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, also published a blog post criticising politicians like Mr Johnson for “cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly evident incorrect statements”.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments