New UK prime minister not an instant remedy, warns Michel Barnier

Fundamental divisions over the Irish backstop remain, the EU negotiator said

Michel Barnier said he was sad the UK was leaving the European Union. AFP
Michel Barnier said he was sad the UK was leaving the European Union. AFP

Theresa May’s replacement as prime minister will not be an instant remedy out of the Brexit chaos, the European Union’s chief negotiator for the UK leaving the bloc has warned.

Michel Barnier said the new leader would still be confronted by the controversial Irish backstop, the insurance policy against a hard border on the island of Ireland. The priority, he said, was to ensure peace and stability on the island was protected.

“It’s not a question of goods or customs. It’s a question about people in Ireland on both sides. A new prime minister will not change the problem,” he told an audience at GLOBSEC’s Bratislava Forum.

Mrs May is stepping down as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party after the UK parliament rejected her withdrawal deal three times. Some of her potential successors have proposed a no-deal or ‘hard’ Brexit if the agreement has not obtained support by a majority of MPs by October 31, the current leave date.

Mrs May was forced to ask the EU to push back the original exit dates of March 29 and April 12 after parliament refused to endorse her withdrawal agreement.

Frenchman Mr Barnier, who lamented that the UK was leaving the EU, was speaking alongside Slovakia’s foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak.

The latter said there were “unrealistically high expectations” the new prime minister would be a “game changer.” The same “divided country” and “parliament that has rejected all the possible deals,” would still remain, added Mr Lajcak.

Both rubbished claims by some candidates that the EU could be forced to reopen the withdrawal agreement to negotiate.

Mr Barnier instead urged the UK to decide what they wanted to do quickly so the two sides could begin to look at their connection going forward, citing the “many years” it would take to rebuild legal, financial, technical understanding.

“What is much more important, in my view, is the future relationship with the UK. In any case the UK will remain a strong partner and ally for European security and a friend,” he said.

“We need to begin as soon as possible.”

Published: June 7, 2019 08:30 PM


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