Brexit: Ireland warning over ‘threats’ as EU rejects May’s deal

EU Commission president Jean Claude Juncker, centre, and European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, prepare to address Members of the European Parliament on Brexit. Picture: AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert
EU Commission president Jean Claude Juncker, centre, and European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, prepare to address Members of the European Parliament on Brexit. Picture: AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert
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Leaders from across the EU have roundly rejected Theresa May’s demand to renegotiate her own Brexit deal, with the Irish deputy prime minister warning his government would not respond to “threats”.

Senior figures in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Dublin said that the Prime Minister’s demand to replace the ‘backstop’ insurance policy for the Irish border only made a no-deal Brexit more likely as the UK’s departure from the EU on March 29 draws near.

Prime Minister Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture: Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

Prime Minister Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture: Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

The strongest language came from Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister, who claimed the UK’s position was like “jumping out the window”.

Mr Coveney, who also serves as Deputy Prime Minister, said: “It’s an extraordinary situation that when a prime minister and a government negotiates a deal and then goes back and during the ratification process votes against their own deal, which is what happened yesterday, and now wants to go back to their negotiating partner and change everything.

“It’s like saying give me what I want or I’m jumping out the window. We owe it to the people of Ireland, north and south. We cannot approach this negotiation on the basis of threats.”

In a telephone call with Mrs May, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the position on the backstop remained “unchanged”.

A statement from the Irish government said the “latest developments had reinforced the need for a backstop which is legally robust and workable in practice”.

In Brussels, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the agreement struck last November after 18 months of negotiation was “the best and only deal possible”.

He told a meeting of the European Parliament: “The debate and votes in the House of Commons yesterday do not change that. The Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated.”

Mr Juncker said he would stay in contact with Mrs May and would “listen to her ideas”, but added: “I will also be extremely clear about the position of the EU. Yesterday’s vote has further increased the risk of a disorderly exit of the UK.”

Tuesday’s Commons vote demanded the replacement of the backstop with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs that “no-one, on one side or the other, can say very clearly and precisely what form these alternative arrangements will take”.

Insisting that the plan remains “at the heart” of the EU’s efforts to protect the single market”, Mr Barnier said: “The backstop is part and parcel of the Withdrawal Agreement and this agreement will not be renegotiated.”

Mrs May was set to speak by phone with European Council president Donald Tusk on Wednesday evening.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the Withdrawal Agreement was “not renegotiable”, while a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that reopening the deal was “not on the agenda”.

Germany’s foreign minister said Berlin is willing to continue talks with Britain but insisted the current Brexit deal was the only one on the table.

Heiko Maas called for clarity on how Britain wants to change the so-called “backstop”, adding: “Germany and the entire Union are firmly on Ireland’s side.”