EU rejects UK PM Johnson’s effort to scrap Brexit backstop
Impasse over Irish border suggest a no-deal Brexit may be on the cards
LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has fired the opening salvo in his bid to renegotiate Britain's divorce from the European Union, demanding an insurance policy for the Irish border be removed from the Brexit deal and replaced with a pledge.
After more than three years of Brexit crisis, Britain is heading towards a showdown with the EU as Mr Johnson has vowed to leave the bloc on Oct 31 without a deal, unless it agrees to renegotiate the divorce terms.
In his opening bid to the EU ahead of meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week, Mr Johnson wrote a four-page letter to European Council president Donald Tusk setting out his demands.
"I propose the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place (alternative) arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship," he wrote.
The backstop would provisionally keep Britain in a customs union with the EU until a solution is found to prevent the return of border controls along the 500km land border between the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
Border checks of some kind will be required as the EU needs to protect its "single market", which scraps tariffs and harmonises standards among member states.
Mr Johnson said his government was committed to the Irish peace agreement and both sides should ensure there was no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But he said the backstop was unacceptable as it required not only continued membership of the EU's customs union but also the application of single-market rules in Northern Ireland.
He said the best solution was a pledge to put in place arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period.
The EU has come out strongly against Mr Johnson's demand.
It said yesterdayhe had offered no workable alternative.
The European Commission, which led Brexit negotiations, dismissed the idea that the backstop could be replaced with a "commitment" to find "alternative arrangements".
"The letter does not provide a legal operational solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland," commission spokesman Natasha Bertaud said.
"It does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be, and in fact it recognises there is no guarantee such arrangements will be in place by the end of the transitional period."
Brussels insists the backstop is vital to preserve the integrity of European trade and to avoid risking a return of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Mr Tusk took to Twitter to give a robust response. He wrote: "The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found.
"Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it." - REUTERS, AFP
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now