September 4, 2018 / 4:47 PM / 3 months ago

EU could tweak Irish border backstop to win Britain's approval: lawmaker

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union could offer new guarantees to Britain to win London’s support for a solution aimed at avoiding an Irish border after Brexit, a leading EU lawmaker said.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The EU has made the so-called Irish ‘backstop’ a condition for any divorce deal before Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, and both sides are under increasing pressure to overcome the outstanding issues.

The chief potential spoiler is the Irish border, where both Britain and the EU fear strict controls could reignite decades of violence on the island.

“We are open to introducing some changes to the backstop solution so that it is politically acceptable for the UK,” said Danuta Hubner, who chairs the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, which must verify any Brexit agreement.

“It has definitely never been the intention of the EU to threaten the territorial integrity of the UK with the backstop,” she told Reuters on Tuesday.

“A political reassurance of that sort could compliment the backstop from our side. Solving the Irish issue is a condition for us to end the negotiations positively,” she said.

An EU diplomat dealing with Brexit in Brussels told Reuters the bloc’s negotiator Michel Barnier has presented such an idea during a recent briefing for envoys from the remaining 27 national capitals in Brussels.

Barnier’s office had no immediate comment.

The EU’s ‘backstop’ plan is to keep Northern Ireland in the bloc’s economic space even after Brexit and hold border checks in Irish Sea ports, hence introducing no new barriers between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May said that would amount to pulling Northern Ireland away from the rest of the country and said London would not accept it.

Both sides are working for an agreement for May and the other 27 national leaders in the bloc to endorse in November.

That would leave just about enough time for the necessary approval by both the British and the EU’s parliaments before Brexit day.

The stakes are high as otherwise Britain would crash out of the bloc with no agreement to replace more than four decades of close cooperation with the EU on everything from trade to aviation and food safety.

The European and British parliaments must sign off on any Brexit agreement sealed by EU leaders for it to take effect.

Editing by Robin Emmott

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