Sunday 1 September 2019 11:35 am

Michel Barnier: Irish backstop is best solution we can offer UK

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has defended the controversial Irish backstop as the best it could offer the UK in any Brexit deal.

Michel Barnier said the backstop – the insurance policy designed to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland – represented the “maximum flexibility” the EU could offer a non-member state.

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The Irish backstop has become the main sticking point in the Brexit negotiations, with some Brexiters concerned that it could keep Britain in the EU customs union for an indefinite amount of time and prevent it from striking its own trade deals.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly said it needs to be removed if the UK is to achieve an exit deal with the EU.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Barnier said: “On the EU side, we had 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.

“In this sense, the backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.”

Barnier said he was “not optimistic” that a no-deal Brexit could be avoided, but added: “We should all continue to work with determination”.

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“The EU is ready to explore all avenues that the Uk government may present that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.

“The Prime Minister has said there will be no more extensions beyond the end of October. Therefore, the UK has now come to a moment of truth and it must decide if it leaves the EU with or without an agreement.”