The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the Irish backstop is “part and parcel” of the UK’s Brexit deal and will not be renegotiated.
Speaking at the European Parliament, Mr Barnier said it was a “realistic solution” to preventing a hard border.
British MPs voted earlier this month against the deal agreed by the UK and EU during 18 months of negotiations.
Instead, on Tuesday, they voted for PM Theresa May to seek “alternative arrangements” to the backstop.
The UK is due to leave the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 29 March. The backstop is an “insurance” policy to stop the return of checks on goods and people along the Northern Ireland border.
As it stands, the backstop would effectively keep the UK inside the EU’s customs union, but with Northern Ireland also conforming to some rules of the single market.
It was one of the main reasons Mrs May’s Brexit deal was voted down in Parliament by an historic margin earlier in January as critics say a different status for Northern Ireland could threaten the existence of the UK and fear that the backstop could become permanent.
Mrs May has said there are several possible alternatives to the backstop that she wanted to discuss with EU leaders.
These include a “trusted trader” scheme to avoid physical checks on goods flowing through the border, “mutual recognition” of rules with the EU and “technological” solutions.
She also wants to discuss a time limit on the backstop and a “unilateral exit” mechanism – both options ruled out by the EU in the past.
Michel Barnier EU’s chief negotiator:
For us the Withdrawal Agreement remains the best and only means the orderly withdrawal of the UK. Despite the difficulties I believe we can achieve that objective.
The backstop is part of the agreement and this agreement will not be renegotiated. The resolution from the European Council in December leaves no scope for doubt
The backstop is not a kind of dogmatism. It is a realistic solution to the problems created in particular in Ireland by Brexit. The backstop as included is the outcome of extremely intense negotiations over two years. It is not against the UK.
- BBC / Politicoscope / EU