Together with the Taoiseach, I met with Mr Barnier during his private visit to Dublin on 9-10 March. I met with him again in Brussels on 19 March, while attending the General Affairs Council (Article 50). On that occasion we discussed preparations for the European Council meeting, and the question of an extension to Article 50.
The Government welcomes the decision of the European Council on 21 March, which averted a no deal outcome on 29 March and sets out a pathway aimed at delivering an orderly UK withdrawal.
We also welcome that the European Council also approved the Strasbourg package agreed between Prime Minister May and President Juncker on 11 March.
The European Council made clear that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, cannot be renegotiated and that any unilateral commitments the UK Government may give to the House of Commons should be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement. We welcome these important assertions.
We remain firmly of the view that the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal and fully protect the Good Friday Agreement is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement. We hope that the House of Commons will approve this fair and balanced deal.
Responsibility now lies with Westminster and the UK Government. The EU has done all it can.
Given the political uncertainty in London, the European Council also made clear that work would continue on preparedness and contingency at all levels, taking into account all possible outcomes.