EU Brexit negotiator accuses MPs of 'snatching defeat from the jaws of victory' in no-deal warning

Posted On: 
29th January 2019

A top Brussels negotiator has accused British MPs of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" as she warned of a "very high" risk of a no-deal Brexit.

The European Commission's deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand stressed the EU's opposition to changing the Northern Ireland backstop.
Credit: 
PA

Speaking as MPs prepared to vote on a string of alternatives to Theresa May's beleaguered Brexit deal, the European Commission's deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand tore into the UK's handling of the divorce talks.

And she slammed what she called "Groundhog Day" 11th-hour attempts to tweak the Northern Ireland backstop part of Mrs May's deal.

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Speaking at an event in Brussels, Ms Weyand said there was now a "very high risk of a crash out not by design but by accident" - and claimed that a lack of knowledge among MPs had made the problem worse.

She said: "It’s quite a challenge to see how you can construct, out of the diversity of opposition, a positive majority for a deal.

"The result of the negotiation has been very much shaped by the UK negotiators, much more than they actually get credit for.

"This is a bit like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

In a direct dig at critics of Mrs May's deal, which was negotiated after more than two years of talks between Britain and the EU, Ms Weyand said the UK was "uninhibited by any knowledge of what is actually in the Withdrawal Agreement".

MPs will tonight vote on a raft of amendments to the Brexit deal and could be given the chance to cast their verdict on a Number 10-backed bid to demand alternatives to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

Critics of the backstop - which would seek to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event that trade talks break down - fear it will leave the UK stuck indefinitely in the EU customs union if it is triggered.

But the EU has long argued that the plan is the only way to avoid fresh disruption at the Irish border if no other solution can be drawn up.

Ms Weyand said efforts by MPs to set a time limit on or allow the UK to unilaterally quit the backstop were "like Groundhog Day".

"This has been extensively discussed at the negotiating table amongst the EU27," she said.

"The EU27 were unanimous: a time limit to the backstop defeats the purpose of the backstop.

"We’re not going to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement."

Tearing into Brexiteer plans for a technical fixes to the border issue, Ms Weyand said: "We looked at every border on this earth, every border the EU has with a third country. There’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls."

But she added: "We’re not wedded to our backstop. We’re open to any alternative suggestions from the UK. The problem is there weren’t any."

ALTERNATIVE PLAN

The scathing remarks came as it emerged that Brexiteer and Remain-supporting Conservatives have joined forces in a fresh bid to avoid the backstop being needed - after Eurosceptics heaped scorn on Number 10's favoured amendment aimed to pushing to EU to make changes.

According to the BBC, former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan and current ministers Stephen Hammond and Robert Buckland have teamed up with leading Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker on the plan to extend the UK's Brexit transition period and swerve the need for the backstop.

A leaked document obtained by the broadcaster shows that the proposal would seek to lengthen the transition period - where the UK continues to abide by EU rules and make payments while it negotiates a future trade deal - until December 2021.

That period is currently expected to run until the end of next year, but the plan would ask for more time to remove the need for the backstop.

One proposal says Britain would offer "bilateral cooperation" with the EU, unilaterally guarantee EU citizens' rights, and uphold "current standards" during the period.

The Times meanwhile reports that the backstop would be replaced with a "safety net" to guarantee continued tariff-free trade between the UK, while both sides will make preparations "to trade on World Trade Organisation terms" in no trade deal can be stuck.

Brexiteer former Cabinet minister Boris Johnson has described the plan as a "breakthrough" in a Tory WhatsApp group.