Britain’s Brexit secretary has urged the EU to come back to the negotiating table on Brexit – warning that the UK would take Ireland’s economy down with it if went ahead with a no-deal.
Stephen Barclay, who is backing Boris Johnson for leader, said EU chiefs should recognise the fact that British MPs had rejected the withdrawal agreement three times.
Declaring that “no-deal is better than no Brexit” after a meeting with Michel Barnier and Ireland’s EU Commissioner Philip Hogan in Brussels, Mr Barclay said 40 per cent of Ireland’s exports went through Dover and would be caught up in the ensuing chaos.
“I think a no-deal outcome would be very damaging for Ireland,” Stephen Barclay told reporters in Brussels.
“For example 40 per cent of their exports go through Dover – so when I read accounts saying that there'll be queues at Dover, they will not just be queues with UK goods in, they'll also be queues with 40 per cent of Irish exports in.
“When I look at issues of data, 40 per cent of Europe's data centres are in the UK, so the flow of data between the UK and EU is not a UK issue, it is shared issue, not least the international nature of many business.
“I think it’s is in the interest of both UK and the Irish government to find a solution. That's certainly the discussion that I and Commissioner Hogan had and I think there's a shared desire in the UK and Ireland to come to a solution.”
The EU’s 27 national leaders and the Commission have since last year said they would not re-open talks on the withdrawal agreement, which contains the controversial Irish border backstop.
But speaking on Tuesday evening Mr Barclay appeared to suggest that the block was bluffing, however – dismissing suggestions that an incoming UK prime minister would get the same reception as Theresa May.
“It ignores the fact that the EU also recognise that no-deal is in neither side's interest,” he said.
“I think the impact of no-deal is greater to the Irish economy than it is in the UK. So the EU want to avoid no-deal.”
He however admitted that “the positions obviously are long established” on both sides.
Policy papers by the European Commission suggest EU officials are working on the basis that the UK would be hit up to ten times as hard by a no-deal as the continent – but it is likely that the burden would be spread unevenly across the union, with Ireland bearing most of the burden.
Mr Barclay declined to be drawn on whether he would remain as Brexit secretary under the new prime minister, stating that it would be a matter for his party’s new leader.
Boris Johnson has said he would go ahead with Brexit on 31 October, even if it required leaving without a deal.
A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “Stephen Barclay and Michel Barnier had a constructive meeting.
“They discussed a range of topics, including citizens’ rights, no deal preparations in the UK and EU and the importance of a positive future partnership given the shared global challenges facing the UK and EU.
“Stephen Barclay also updated Michel Barnier on the political situation in the UK and the UK’s work on alternative arrangements. This includes the establishment of two advisory groups of business and technical experts to explore potential solutions. They have agreed to remain in touch.”
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