The EU said Wednesday it currently sees no alternative to the so-called “Irish backstop” in a Brexit withdrawal deal and warned the risk of Britain crashing out without an agreement has increased.
As political turmoil rages in London and the clock ticks down to the October 31 departure date, the European Commission issued its final preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit, which experts say would have a seismic impact on Britain and the EU alike.
British and EU customs and border experts are meeting Wednesday for technical talks to explore possible alternatives to the “Irish backstop” clause, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists must be scrapped if the UK is to sign up for a divorce deal.
But Brussels says that so far there are no other options which fulfil the EU requirements of protecting the Northern Irish peace agreement and safeguarding the European single market.
“The backstop… is the only solution identified that safeguards the Good Friday Agreement, ensures compliance with international law obligations and preserves the integrity of the internal market,” the commission said in its latest Brexit planning document.
Johnson is bracing for a fresh showdown in parliament on Wednesday after a humiliating defeat on his Brexit strategy, with lawmakers set to vote on a law that would prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
The prime minister has vowed to take Britain out of the EU whether or not a divorce deal is in place, but his government lies in disarray, having lost its majority in parliament.
Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters in Brussels the EU side was open to a deal but was also carrying on with no-deal preparations.
“There may be twists and turns in political developments in London right now but our position is stable. We are willing to work constructively with PM Johnson and to look at any proposals that he may have as long as they are compatible with the withdrawal agreement,” she said.
The commission planning document warned that the chaos in Westminster was making no deal more likely.
“The short time remaining and the political situation in the United Kingdom have increased the risk that the United Kingdom will withdraw on that date without an agreement,” the European Commission said as it issued its final preparations for a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit.
As part of its contingency planning, the commission is to throw open the EU solidarity fund — a mechanism normally used after floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters — to mitigate the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit.