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Theresa May's latest Brexit plan not 'workable solution', Guy Verhofstadt says

European Parliament's Brexit chief says 'difficult to see' how new UK proposal will meet tests just hours after it is published

Jon Stone
Thursday 07 June 2018 16:52 BST
What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has poured cold water on Theresa May’s plan to solve the Northern Ireland border issue, just hours after the PM released revised proposals designed to placate both Brussels and Brexiteers in her own Cabinet.

Reaction from the European Commission to the UK’s white paper has been polite but cautious, with chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying they would examine the proposals to see whether they were up to scratch. Mr Barnier said the plan would have to respect the integrity of the single market, and be a “workable solution” to the border of an “all-weather” character.

But Guy Verhofstadt, who has taken the role as a vocal outrider for Brussels during Brexit negotiations, said on Thursday afternoon that the plan did not look workable.

He warned that it was “difficult to see how [the] UK proposal on customs aspects of the Ireland/Northern Ireland backstop will deliver a workable solution to avoid a hard border and respect integrity of the single market and customs union”, adding that “a backstop that is temporary is not a backstop, unless the definitive arrangement is the same as the backstop”.

European Commission officials said they were studying the proposals while British diplomats in Brussels said they would begin to talks over the plans. Also commenting shortly after the release of the latest plan, Mr Barnier said: “I welcome publication of UK proposal on customs aspects of Ireland/Northern Ireland backstop.”

“We will examine it with three questions: is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border? Does it respect the integrity of the single market and customs union? Is it an all-weather backstop?”

The Prime Minister emerged from a Cabinet row today after Brexiteers demanded that the so-called “backstop” plan for the Irish border be strictly time-limited. Brexit Secretary David Davis had reportedly threatened to resign over the issue: he and other Brexiteers fear that plans to align the whole UK with the single market and customs union until another way of preventing a hard border was found would amount to keeping Britain tied to EU rules indefinitely.

Mr Davis appears to have carried the day, as the proposals say that “the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced”. But the white paper is, again, light on detail, and says only that “there are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU”. British diplomats did not provide any more information about what these options might entail.

EU officials have said that in order for substantial progress to be made on Brexit at an upcoming Brussels summit later this month, Britain would have to accept that the backstop could not be time-limited and that it would have to only apply to Northern Ireland, rather than the whole UK.

Downing Street has resisted the calls to treat Northern Ireland differently however, after pressure from the DUP, a right-wing Northern Irish party on which Ms May relies on for her majority in the House of Commons.

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