EUROPE would prefer a no-deal Brexit to giving up the backstop, Theresa May was repeatedly warned yesterday.
Brussels responded with a flat ‘no’ to the House of Commons which backed the prime minister’s plan to seek ‘alternative arrangements’ to the backstop for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Mrs May told MPs these arrangements could mean a time limit on the backstop, or a technological solution, but European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said both were unworkable.
‘Yesterday’s vote has increased the risk of a disorderly Brexit,’ he told MEPs.
‘The withdrawal agreement will not be renegotiated. There will be no slipping back into dark times past.’
Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng said Brussels will not get a ‘penny pinch’ of the £39billion divorce bill unless it moves on the backstop.
‘The final deal will have to have some give on the backstop from the EU,’ he told the BBC. ‘We have to look at new arrangements, technology to try and sort out those differences.’
But Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney insisted British ‘threats’ would not work.
‘It’s like saying give me what I want or I’m jumping out of the window,’ he said.
‘There are currently no alternative arrangements which achieve what both sides are determined to achieve — to avoid a hard border. Believe me, this has been explored endlessly in the negotiations over the last two years.’
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier accused Mrs May of trashing her own deal. ‘When I hear people who were part and parcel of the negotiations, I find it hard to accept this blame game they are trying to play against us,’ he said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said she was waiting for Mrs May to explain her position, while her foreign minister Heiko Maas warned: ‘Germany and the entire EU are firmly on Ireland’s side.’
Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts said the EU would not undermine its single market by ditching the backstop. ‘If we have to choose, we will choose the lesser of two evils, and that’s a no-deal Brexit,’ he warned.