Barnier says solution to Brexit impasse lies 'in London'
Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the EU was still waiting for the UK to come up with a viable proposal to break deadlocked talks between the two sides.
Speaking after a dinner with the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay in Brussels on Monday night, Barnier said there would be no renegotiation of the Irish backstop.
He described talks as “constructive”, but offered little else by way of comfort for the UK government.
"It is clear from our side that we are not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, but we will continue our discussion in the coming days."
British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to force open the withdrawal agreement and get the backstop, an insurance policy to stop a hard border with Northern Ireland, replaced with “alternative arrangements” so she can get the deal through parliament.
Earlier Barnier had said he would listen to what Barclay “has to tell us concerning the alternative arrangements which the UK would like”.
“But it’s not more than a concept today. I will also evaluate the interest from the UK side for possible changes to the political declaration, which, let me remind you, fixes the outline quite precisely for the future separation.”
May held meetings with EU officials in Brussels last week and came away with little more than an agreement to keep talking.
“It’s in London where they have to find the ways and means to build a positive majority between the two negative majorities that exist today in the House of Commons,” Barnier said.
“We stand ready to do this work on the substance of the political declaration, but for all the reasons confirmed by the president of the council … European commission and parliament, from the European side we consider that the work done on the withdrawal agreement on the organisation of the separation cannot be reopened.’’
Meanwhile in London, May rejected demands from the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that the UK enter a customs union in return for his party's support on the withdrawal plan.
“We are absolutely clear on this: we’re not considering Jeremy Corbyn’s customs proposals, we’re not considering any proposals to remain in the customs union. We must have our own, independent trade policy,” the prime minister's spokesman said on Monday.
Pro-leave Corbyn last week set down five demands, including a permanent customs union and guarantees on environmental and employment standards in return for support on May's stalled Brexit deal.
In reply, May questioned the need to be in a customs union “rather than the ability to strike our own deals", although she did reaffirm a commitment to securing frictionless trade with the EU.
May also rejected Corbyn's demand that environmental and workers’ rights were automatically aligned with EU standards but said parliament could vote on those issues when regulations changed.
Downing confirmed rumours that a meaningful vote on Brexit would not happen on Thursday as planned, but May would instead update parliament.
The spokesman added the government would bring a vote on a Brexit deal to parliament "as soon as possible", and that if the meaningful vote had not been passed by February 27 it had committed to a further amendable motion by that date.