EU stepping up efforts to reword Brexit Irish text to 'de-dramatise' talks

FILE PHOTO: Britain's and European Union flags are hung outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union officials are working on re-drafting a sensitive Irish protocol to the draft Brexit treaty with Britain, as part of what EU negotiator Michel Barnier has called efforts to “de-dramatise” the issue and get a deal, EU officials said on Wednesday.

Officials and diplomats close to the negotiations told Reuters previously this month that work was under way to find wording that could ease British fears that the “backstop” to avoid a hard land border for Northern Ireland would pull the province away from its constitutional anchor to the United Kingdom.

British officials have said their problems with the EU-proposed backstop go beyond language and point out that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Northern Irish allies, strong supporters of the union with Britain, will not be easily mollified.

“We are willing to look at how we can de-dramatize the problem,” one EU official said. “We are willing to improve (the draft protocol).”

Another said work was now fully under way on a new text before May meets the other EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg next week.

However, as Barnier’s boss European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament earlier on Wednesday, the EU is not willing to go along with British proposals that it believes would give UK business a free-ride back-door entry to the EU single market or to let EU member Ireland suffer as a result of Brexit.

At the same time, Juncker stressed, the EU was looking to forge a very close partnership with Britain.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp