He claimed the Prime Minister’s plan to prevent customs checks on the border fails to achieve the “objectives” of the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. Despite his pessimistic outlook, the French eurocrat claimed work is ongoing to “see how we could find decentralised or virtual solutions” for the border. German foreign minister Heiko Maas insisted his government would not accept any half-baked proposals from the Prime Minister.
“We want to put an end to the current uncertainty,” Mr Barnier told reporters after meetings in Berlin.
He added: “The new UK Government wants the EU to change the way of the internal market and how border controls operate after Brexit.
“I am sure you understand this is unacceptable. For the moment, we don’t have the basis for find an accord.
“Based on current UK thinking, it is difficult to see how we can arrive at a legally operative solution which fulfils all the objectives of the backstop.
“It is in a very sensitive and difficult phase.”
Mr Johnson hopes both sides can avoid border checks by Northern Ireland aligning on EU agri-food standards and other controls being implemented elsewhere.
“Objectively, there are possibilities,” Mr Barnier bemoaned, adding: “I don’t know how to inspect a cow with virtual methods.”
Mr Maas argued that Brussels should not “strip down” the bloc’s single market to solve the border conundrum.
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“For us, two things are still important,” he said.
“Firstly, we need to retain the Good Friday Agreement, especially the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This border is the pre-requisite to endanger peace in that area.
“And secondly, we have to protect the single market, the EU has a strategic interest in this. And we have to meet this.
“Because we can’t strip down the single market or make exceptions to our standards. Regarding peace in Northern Ireland and the single market, we can’t do things by halves.”
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During a weekend interview, Jean-Claude Juncker insisted Mr Johnson is “not playing games” and is intent on delivering a Brexit deal.
He insisted the controversial Northern Ireland backstop “is not important in itself” as long as Mr Johnson’s negotiating team can deliver on the same objectives.
“I don’t share the idea of those who think that Prime Minister Johnson is playing games with us and with himself,” Mr Juncker told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
“I think he is trying to find an acceptable agreement for both the British Parliament and the European Parliament.”
In a boost to the Prime Minister, who has said he wants to scrap the backstop, the Brussels bureaucrat spelled out that the measure to avoid a hard border is entirely replaceable.
Mr Juncker said: “The safeguard or backstop is not important in itself.
“The important thing is what it achieves: preserving the integrity of the European market, maintaining the Good Friday peace agreement and guaranteeing equal competition on the agreed issues.
“The important thing, as I explained those goals, even by alternative means.”
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