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European Council: Brexit, “agreement not open for renegotiation” Softened stance on backstop. PM May returns to London

(Brussels) The backstop is “intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the Single Market”. This is according to the conclusions of the European Council held yesterday and today in Brussels, dedicated to Brexit. In their overnight marathon, the 27 heads of state or government reiterated that the agreement reached on the UK’s withdrawal will not be renegotiated, but the EU softened its position on the backstop to allow Prime Minister Theresa May to return home and get the agreement approved in the House of Commons. It is the EU’s “firm determination” to work speedily on “a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered”. In other words, no one wants the reintroduction of a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The backstop would temporarily keep Northern Ireland in the single market, until new rules are agreed with the British Government. Hard Brexiteers oppose this clause for they believe that it would de facto keep Northern Ireland in the EU economy. The European Council also underlined in its conclusions that “if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided”.
In such a case, the Union would “use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary”.

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