Top European Union Brexit officials insisted Wednesday that the EU's divorce agreement with Britain cannot be renegotiated as Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to seek fresh concessions just weeks before her country is set to leave. "The EU institutions remain united, and we stand by the agreement that we have negotiated with the UK," Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said as he left a meeting of the European Parliament's Brexit committee. Britain is to exit the EU on March 29—the first country ever to do so—but an agreement governing its departure is held up in the British Parliament, mostly due to a border measure known as the Irish "backstop." The safeguard would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU in order to remove the need for border checks between the UK's Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Britain leaves the bloc, notes the AP.
Many British lawmakers fear the backstop will trap Britain in regulatory lockstep with the EU, and Parliament earlier rejected the Brexit deal May struck with the EU in November. On Tuesday, May won backing from Parliament to reopen negotiations over the withdrawal deal—but EU leaders reiterated Wednesday that the deal cannot be changed. The EU parliament's Brexit point-man, Guy Verhofstadt, underlined that nobody in Europe wants to use the backstop but that it's "needed to be 100% sure that there is no border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic." Verhofstadt said the only way for May to win concessions would be to back away from her long-held stance that Britain must not remain part of the EU's customs area, except during a two-year transition phase. "If the future relationship is ... a customs union that makes it completely different," Verhofstadt said.
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