I met with Michel Barnier on 21 January, in the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. We discussed the disappointing but not unexpected outcome of the 15 January vote in the House of Commons on the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. Both Mr Barnier and I are in agreement that what we need from the UK is clarity on how it proposes to move forward, and ultimately what it wants to achieve. The EU could then consider any next steps it might take. The EU continues to take a united approach to the negotiations and I thanked Mr Barnier for his unwavering support for Ireland.
Mr Barnier and I remain firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the British Government. The European Council has made clear that it stands by the Withdrawal Agreement and that it is not open for renegotiation. The EU stands ready to work further on the Political Declaration as we look to the future relationship.
Mr Barnier reaffirmed his commitment to the backstop provisions contained in the Agreement, which is the only agreement on the table that provides the essential legal guarantee to avoid a hard border in any circumstances and protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
In light of the ongoing uncertainty in Britain, however, the European Council has asked that preparedness work at the national and EU level intensify, taking account of all possible outcomes. I outlined Ireland’s approach in this regard, including planned legislation and other contingency measures. I also thanked Mr Barnier for the Commission’s continued helpful and constructive engagement in this area, and their understanding of the particular challenges faced by Ireland.