The Brexit Secretary has been unable to say what the alternative to the Irish backstop is.
The Prime Minister is preparing to return to Brussels after MPs gave their backing to a proposal to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border in Ireland.© Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay at 10 Downing Street
Mrs May said she would seek “legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border”.
This is despite the EU’s refusal to reopen the deal.
And this morning her Brexit Secretary was unable to say what these “alternative arrangements” could be.
Stephen Barclay was asked repeatedly on the Today programme but could only say the UK was “exploring in terms of the use of technology… looking at things like the time limit”.
Both of these options have already been dismissed by the EU.
The Union Jack reflected on the footpath outside Parliament© AP The Union Jack reflected on the footpath outside Parliament
Mr Barclay added: “There are a number of options, there are issues in terms of having time limits, issues in terms of exit clauses, issues in terms of technology and this will be the nature of the negotiation with the European Union in the coming days.”
Asked if he thought Theresa May could secure a new deal with the EU in the next fortnight, Mr Barclay said: “The vote was last night, the PM will be meeting with the leader of the opposition later today, there is an ongoing process… we are working hard in the national interest.”
An anti Brexit demonstrator waves to traffic alongside a banner tied to railings outside Parliament© AP An anti Brexit demonstrator waves to traffic alongside a banner tied to railings outside Parliament
And Mr Barclay claimed that Tuesday night’s amendments, two weeks after Mrs May suffered the heaviest parliamentary defeat in modern history over the meaningful vote, had “overturned a defeat of 230 into a victory”.
The Commons voted by 317 to 301 in favour of the backstop changes – which Mrs May said showed there was a means of securing a “substantial and sustainable majority in this House for leaving the EU with a deal” and vowed to seek a new agreement with Brussels.
But in a statement, Mr Tusk’s spokesman said: “The Withdrawal Agreement is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.
“The backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for re-negotiation.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told reporters in Brussels: “The position of the European Union is very clear.”© Thomson Reuters European Union Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier attends a weekly college meeting of the EU executive in Brussels, Belgium, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the controversial backstop arrangement remained “necessary” despite the vote, while the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, said there was “no majority to re-open or dilute” the Withdrawal Agreement.
And French President Emmanuel Macron also said the agreement was “not renegotiable”, in comments just moments before MPs voted.© Getty Members of Border Communities against Brexit gather at the Irish border
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said on Wednesday morning the bloc’s position was “very clear”.
Michel Barnier told reporters in Brussels: “The position of the European Union is very clear.
“It has been expressed yesterday by president (Donald) Tusk and president (Jean-Claude) Juncker will make a statement to the parliament this afternoon.”