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EU's Barnier rejects UK's backstop demand

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-09-02 14:54

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (left) poses with Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay ahead of a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on July 9, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Brussels reiterates it will not water down its protection of Irish border

Britain was warned once again on Sunday that the European Union cannot remove the Irish border backstop from the proposed Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The EU's top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has rejected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's demands for the Irish backstop to be scrapped and said that he is "not optimistic" of avoiding a no-deal outcome, where Britain leaves the EU without a deal on Oct 31.

In an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Barnier said the backstop measure had to remain in place to protect the integrity of the bloc's single market while ensuring an open border on the island of Ireland.

Johnson had said he was encouraged in his bid to axe the backstop by recent meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who appeared to suggest openness to alternatives.

But Barnier said Brussels remained unconvinced after "intense discussions with EU member states on the need to guarantee the integrity of the EU's single market, while keeping that border fully open".

Johnson has vowed to take the country out of the EU on Oct 31 without a deal unless Brussels agrees to revise the divorce agreement. He has threatened a no-deal scenario whereby the United Kingdom immediately quits the EU's tariff -free single market and customs union.

The government of his predecessor, Theresa May, spent two years negotiating the withdrawal agreement with Brussels, which the British Parliament has failed to pass on three occasions.

Johnson has now sought to suspend Parliament in the lead-up to Brexit day to avoid opposition and some rebel Conservative MPs blocking a no-deal scenario.

On Sunday, Johnson warned his fellow Tory MPs to back him to deliver Brexit or see Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn take over and "plunge the country into chaos".

In an interview with The Sunday Times newspaper, Johnson warned that a Tory rebellion this week would jeopardize a planned 3.5-billion-pound ($4.25 billion) injection into local services.

The prime minister has promised to unveil the "biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair's New Labour". He claims local councils will get 3.5 billion pounds extra-the first rise in their budgets for a decade-with 1 billion pounds earmarked for social care.

Johnson plans on Monday to tell former cabinet ministers Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Dominic Grieve, that they have to make a "choice".

He told The Sunday Times: "I just say to everybody in the country, including everyone in Parliament, the fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum? Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people-and plunge this country into chaos?

"Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda? That's the choice."

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across the UK in cities including Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Belfast to protest against Johnson's plans to suspend Parliament in the run-up to Brexit.

Parts of central London were brought to a standstill, as people chanted: "Boris Johnson, shame on you."

A small group of counter-protesters, marching in support of the prime minister, also arrived in Westminster. Johnson's plan to prorogue Parliament prompted an angry backlash from MPs and opponents of a no-deal Brexit when he announced it on Wednesday.

If it happens as expected, Parliament will be closed for 23 working days. Critics view the length and timing of the suspension-coming just weeks before the Brexit deadline of Oct 31-as controversial.

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