KONFRONTASI-Ireland accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of wishful thinking on Wednesday for seeking to renegotiate a post-Brexit arrangement for the Irish border in an attempt to get backing for Britain’s EU divorce deal in parliament.
Other European Union leaders had quickly dismissed the idea of reopening the deal, saying the Irish “backstop” was not negotiable, shortly after parliament instructed May to do just that in a vote on Tuesday.
Less than two months before the United Kingdom is due by law to leave the EU on March 29, investors and allies are trying to gauge where the crisis will end up, with options including a disorderly ‘no-deal’ Brexit, a delay, or no Brexit at all.
Two weeks after overwhelmingly rejecting the deal May had agreed in Brussels in two years of talks, a 317-310 majority in parliament demanded she secure a replacement for the backstop, an insurance policy that aims to prevent a hard border being erected between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In essence, she will use the implicit threat of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit to clinch a deal from the other 27 members of the EU, whose combined economy is about six times the size of Britain’s.
The European response has been blunt.
Simon Coveney, foreign minister of Ireland, whose economy stands to suffer most from a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, said Britain had not offered any feasible way to keep the border open.
Ireland also has a huge interest in preserving a deal that has maintained sectarian peace in neighboring Northern Ireland for two decades, not least by scrapping all border checks.
“What we are being asked to do here is to compromise on a solution that works, and to replace it with wishful thinking,” he said.
France said there would be no renegotiation of the deal already agreed. European Council President Donald Tusk, due to hold a call with May at 1745 GMT, referred to the backstop in saying the deal would was “not open for renegotiation”.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stuck to the same line, adding that Brussels still did not know what Britain wanted and that the chances of a ‘no-deal’ exit had increased.
Currency traders also took that view as sterling traded around $1.3070, more than a cent down from the level reached before lawmakers voted on Tuesday.
Heiko Maas, foreign minister of the EU’s leading power, Germany, said the British government “must now say quickly what it wants, because time is running out”.
“We are ready to talk,” he said, before adding: “Our position is clear: the Withdrawal Agreement is the best and only solution for an orderly exit.”
While the EU has repeatedly refused to reopen the divorce deal, EU sources said additional clarifications, statements or assurances on the backstop might be possible.
May has said she needs more — a legally binding change. She aims to get parliament’s approval for a revised deal on Feb. 13. If that fails, parliament will vote on next steps on Feb. 14.
That deadline ratchets up the pressure on dedicated Brexiteers in the Conservative Party who fear opponents will try to delay and ultimately thwart Britain’s exit.