Tuesday, 26 February 2019
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
I met with Michel Barnier on 18 February, in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. We discussed the state of play with regard to the Article 50 process and reviewed political developments in London. We also discussed ongoing contacts between the EU and UK teams on foot of the meeting between Prime Minister May and President Juncker on 4 February when it was agreed that their teams will hold talks on whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament for the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement and respect the EU’s position.
Mr Barnier and I remain firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal which fully protects the Good Friday Agreement is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the British Government. The European Council has made clear that it stands by the Withdrawal Agreement and that it is not open for renegotiation. Mr. Barnier repeated to me the EU's openness to work further on the Political Declaration as we look to the future relationship and the question of the seeking of alternative arrangements to replace the backstop in the future.
Mr Barnier reaffirmed his commitment to the backstop provisions contained in the Agreement, which is the only agreement on the table that provides the essential legal guarantee to avoid a hard border in any circumstances and protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
I also provided Mr. Barnier with an update on Ireland's preparedness for Brexit, including for a no-deal outcome, drawing his attention in particular to the imminent publication of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019. I also thanked Mr Barnier for the Commission’s continued helpful and constructive engagement in this area, and their understanding of the particular challenges faced by Ireland. Mr. Barnier reaffirmed this support and commended Ireland for its comprehensive and intensive preparedness work.
I and my colleagues across Government and our officials will remain in close and frequent communication with the Commission and our EU partners in the coming weeks as we face into another crucial period for the Brexit process.