I spoke with Michel Barnier over the weekend, during his visit to Dublin. I also remain in contact with my UK counterparts, and spoke with David Lidington during my visit to London late last week.
There have been an intensive series of meeting between the EU and the UK over the past few weeks, including between the British Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, the UK Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, and the EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier. The Commission has been working with the UK to agree language with a view towards the meaningful vote in Westminster, without reopening or contradicting the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop.
On 11 May Prime Minister May and President Juncker agreed a package of measures comprising of an “Instrument relating to the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community” and a “Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” There was constant contact between our team and the Commission's team over the last number of days as these documents were being developed. The Taoiseach also spoke by phone with President Juncker before the package was agreed with Prime Minister May.
These documents are complementary to the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration and aim to provide an additional layer of interpretation, clarification and elaboration to the United Kingdom. They provide the legal assurances sought by the UK on the temporary nature of the backstop, as well as additions to the political declaration on the future relationship setting clearly our commitment to finding alternative arrangements to the backstop.
The Government welcomes this agreement, and is prepared to back this package of measures in the interests of securing an overall deal. As we have said all along, the backstop is an insurance policy. We have no intention of wishing to trap the UK into an arrangement against its will. The Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop does not do this, but does provide the guarantees that a hard border will be avoided and that the Good Friday Agreement is fully protected.
The EU is fully committed to exploring alternative arrangements so that the backstop is never used, or would only apply temporarily if it ever needs to be used. The agreed package makes clear that work on these alternative arrangements will begin as soon as the Withdrawal Agreement is signed.
This has not been an easy process and compromise has been shown on both sides. We hope that with these further assurances the House of Commons will approve the Withdrawal Agreement. This is the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal that fully protects the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.