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February 22, 2019

EU slams Brexit 'blame game,' cool to UK offer on Irish border

EU slams Brexit 'blame game,' cool to UK offer on Irish border
'European Union Chief Negotiator in charge of Brexit negotiations Michel Barnier hit out at Britain's pro-Brexit politicians who accuse the EU of taking a tough stand that slows the pace of negotiations' - By: AFP JOHN THYS

The EU on Friday slammed a British "blame game" in Brexit negotiations and reacted cooly to Britain's latest offer to solve the Irish border problem.

The European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier also warned Britain that time for a deal was running out quickly before the exit deadline on March 29 next year.

Barnier hit out at Britain's pro-Brexit politicians who accuse the EU of taking a tough stand that slows the pace of negotiations.

"We are not going to be intimidated by this form of blame game," Barnier told a press conference in Brussels.

He added that Britain has to "accept the consequences" of its June 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

He added it could not expect to benefit from the same advantages as countries staying in the bloc and not respect the EU's regulatory framework.

"If we want to build a new relationship, there needs to be more trust but also needs to be more realism about what is possible and not possible."

He warned there were only two weeks before a key EU summit and only months before negotiations must end to allow member states and the European Parliament to approve the terms.

"The time has come today to take decisions and make choices," Barnier said. "We are happy and ready to step up the frequency of our negotiations."

- 'Backstop means backstop' -

Brussels has said there needs to be progress on a solution by the June 28-29 EU summit to prevent the return of border checks between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

But Barnier poured cold water on a border proposal reached in London on Thursday following tough talks involving Prime Minister Theresa May and eurosceptic ministers.

It calls for Britain to temporarily align with EU customs rules after Brexit as a fall-back option to resolve the Irish border problem but only until 2021.

And it calls for the arrangement to apply to the whole of Britain.

"Our backstop cannot be extended to the whole of the UK because it is designed to the specific situation of Northern Ireland," Barnier said.

He also said a time-limited solution "doesn't suit me," adding a temporary solution is not a "real" backstop. "Backstop means backstop."

Nevertheless Barnier said he was not rejecting the proposal outright. "I reject nothing. I ask questions."

May hopes to resolve the border issue with a wider trade deal between the EU and Britain, but has agreed to the need for a plan B if this is delayed or does not happen.

Britain now expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest, a year after the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

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