The chief EU negotiator says the backstop remains a "matter of urgency"
The EUs chief negotiator has warned that the agreement of an "all-weather insurance policy" for the Irish border remains a "matter of urgency" in Brexit talks.
Michel Barnier was speaking alongside the new UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab as the latest round of talks got underway in Brussels today.
Noting that there are now 13 weeks to go until the crunch European Council Summit in October, he said negotiators had two key tasks in front of them.
First, the Brexit Withdrawal Treaty must be finalised and second, a political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU must be prepared.
The EU has consistently made it clear that there can be no withdrawal agreement without a legally operable backstop agreement ensuring there will be no return to hard border in Ireland - whatever happens next in negotiations.
Mr Barnier doubled down on that position today.
He said it is a "matter of urgency" that both sides agree on a "legally operable" backstop that removes the threat of a hard border no matter the outcome of the talks.
"We need an all-weather insurance policy," he said.
Mr Raab said it was "now vital" that both sides make progress on Britain's future relationship with the EU.
Despite the political turmoil that has engulfed Westminster since the publication of the UK Government's long-awaited white paper on future EU-trade and security, Mr Raab said he was "looking forward with renewed energy, vigour and vim to looking at the detail of all of this."
"I'm looking forward to intensifying, heating up the negotiations and making sure we're in the best position to get the best deal," he said.
The men were speaking after the European Commission warned EU member states to step up their preparations for a possible "no deal" Brexit.
The European Commission said "everyone must now step up plans for all scenarios and take responsibility for their specific situation," ahead of Britain's official exit day on March 29th 2019.
It warns of the possibility of long queues at borders and ports, disruption to air travel and new restrictions on data transfers if no exit deal is agreed between London and Brussels.
In Dublin this afternoon, the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted the Irish economy is in a good position to withstand external shocks like Brexit.
Minister Donohoe was speaking after the latest CSO figures highlighted GDP growth of 9% in the first quarter, year on year, as well as growth in employment.
He warned, however, that a number of external threats to the economy remain.
"It could obviously come from what happens with Brexit," he said.
"Secondly, it could come from the global from what happens in the global trading environment - particularly the trans-Atlantic trading environment between America and the EU."
Very happy to meet @DominicRaab this afternoon. I’m looking forward to our work over the coming weeks to 1) finalise the WA (incl. the backstop on IE/NI) & 2) prepare a political declaration on our future relationship 🇪🇺🇬🇧 https://t.co/C4XfyD9KUk pic.twitter.com/JlfLFtPsdo— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) July 19, 2018
The European Commission document warns: "While the EU is working day and night for a deal ensuring an orderly withdrawal, the UK's withdrawal will undoubtedly cause disruption - for example in business supply chains - whether or not there is a deal," it said.
It added "there is still no certainty that there will be a ratified withdrawal agreement in place on that date [30th March 2019]."
The document outlines two possible main scenarios:
This is referred to as the "no deal" or "cliff-edge" scenario.
The commission insisted its advice was not "a sign of mistrust in the negotiations."
If the talks proceed according to plan, a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future relations will be agreed by October.
This will allow enough time for the exit deal to be ratified by the British and European parliaments.
On the prospect of Britain exiting the EU without a deal, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokeswoman said the progress made so far suggests "that is not where we will end up."
Additional reporting from IRN ...