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"Those who oppose the backstop [Irish safeguard] and do not propose realistic alternatives de facto support the restoration of a border. Even if they do not admit it," the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has been so blunt in his response to the Letter from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Tusk recalled that the backstop was established as a safeguard to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland , in case there was no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom on their future relationship after Brexit. And the European Commission shares its vision. "The letter does not provide a legal and operational solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland," said the spokeswoman for the European executive, Natasha Bertaud.
The Commission criticizes that Johnson's letter does not specify "alternative arrangements" to replace the backstop , whereby Northern Ireland remains aligned with much of the EU's single market regulation, and the rest of the United Kingdom, in a customs union, during the duration of negotiations on the future relationship. "In fact, he acknowledges that there is no guarantee that such arrangements will be in effect by the end of the transition period," Bertaud said. And this is a red line for Brussels. It is not worth it with "commitments", it wants legal solutions that work from day one.
The EU believes that there is room for dialogue, to find alternatives but, yes, within the framework of the political declaration on the future relationship and as long as they are in line with the exit agreement. A very long and technical agreement that establishes the conditions of divorce between both parties and that London and the 27 signed as of November 2018, with Theresa May still as prime minister. Johnson now rejects the text against which the House of Commons, for different reasons, has voted against up to three times.
Elephant in the room
Brussels applauds that the United Kingdom remains committed to an orderly exit "that is in the interest of both the EU and the United Kingdom," but relations are stagnant. Although there are just over two months left for the planned date for Brexit, on October 31, the dialogue between Brussels and London is practically non-existent. Not even the negotiating chiefs of both sides, Michel Barnier for the EU, and Steve Barclay for the United Kingdom, have yet met. And time is running out.
Johnson's letter comes barely a few days before the G7 summit in France, in which the British Prime Minister will face the French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Council President Donald Tusk. The head of the European executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, convalescent after an operation, will not be in Biarritz over the weekend. After Johnson's letter everything indicates that Brexit will once again be the elephant in the room.
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