EU prods Britain towards Northern Ireland backstop to break Brexit deadlock

GARYVOE, Ireland/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union has pressed Britain to give Northern Ireland special status within the bloc’s trading orbit to unlock a Brexit deal, with Dublin promising a positive response should London shift its position.

FILE PHOTO: Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney attends a conference in Paris, France, August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

The so-called backstop mechanism to uphold the seamless Irish border after Brexit has proven a key obstacle to agreeing an EU-UK divorce deal, which stalled after British lawmakers rejected it.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 – deal or no deal – the bloc has focused in recent days on a Northern Ireland-only backstop as the best chance of getting a deal before the deadline lapses.

“We want an agreement but we are aware that an agreement without a backstop wouldn’t work,” the new head of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, told a news conference in Brussels.

“We are willing to go back to the original EU proposal which is that a backstop will only be added for Northern Ireland.”

The EU saw a possible opening in Johnson’s comments signalling that he was willing to preserve an all-Ireland economy for checks on animals and food products, a single electricity market and travel zone.

Johnson’s spokesman has since said London was not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop.

Asked if that meant the option was dead, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said nothing had been taken off the table.

“We will respond positively if there are suggestions and new approaches that are based on realism in terms of what will actually work,” Coveney said.

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