Ireland Rules Out Time-Limited Backstop: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) — Theresa May returns to Parliament to explain what she’s going to do next. She’s ditched cross-party talks and will instead seek to do what the European Union has long rejected — rewrite the Irish backstop.

Key Developments

May is focusing on Irish backstop ahead of statement to ParliamentSpokesman says government doesn’t see Jan. 29 votes on Brexit amendments as legally binding, but as opportunity for Parliament to express views

IMF Warns of No-Deal Brexit Risk (1:20 p.m.)

The International Monetary Fund renewed its warning about the economic risks of a no-deal Brexit to the U.K. It held its 2019 growth forecast at 1.5 percent, saying fiscal stimulus in the last budget would offset the dampening effect of Brexit, but warned “substantial uncertainty” surrounds the estimate.

“This baseline projection assumes that a Brexit deal is reached in 2019 and that the U.K. transitions gradually to the new regime,” the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook Update on Monday. “However, as of mid-January, the shape that Brexit will take remains highly uncertain.”

The lender said a chaotic Brexit would also threaten the global outlook. Global growth is set to slow to 3.5 percent in 2019, though it could be weaker if a no-deal Brexit or a larger-than-anticipated slowdown in China materialize, it said.

Coveney: Backstop Can’t Be Time-Limited (1 p.m.)

Well that was quick. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has ruled out Poland’s proposal (see 12:20 p.m.) that limiting the backstop to five years could help break the impasse on Brexit.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Coveney made clear the Withdrawal Agreement is not up for negotiation, and that the backstop wouldn’t be one if it was time-limited. Poland doesn’t reflect the EU’s views, he said.

Coveney said that stance was confirmed by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the bloc wouldn’t renegotiate a deal that took two years to finalize.

“The Polish intervention doesn’t represent EU thinking,” Coveney said. “Everyone is saying same thing — we can’t reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Poland Suggests 5-Year Backstop Limit (12:20 p.m.)

Limiting the Irish-border backstop to five years could be part of the solution to end the Brexit impasse, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz suggested, adding that he broached the concept today with his U.K. and Irish counterparts.

“It would be one of the solutions to be discussed, I think, with the European Union,” he told reporters in Brussels.

“I don’t know if it is feasible,” Czaputowicz said. “If Ireland is ready to put forward such a proposal, I have the impression it might unblock the negotiations.”

EU: Solutions Must Come From U.K. (12:10 p.m.)

“Don’t look for answers from Brussels,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters. “This is the moment for London to speak.”

EU officials have expressed some disbelief that the bloc’s position on Brexit is still misunderstood on the British side.

May Focuses on Backstop to Appease Rebels (11:45 a.m.)

“A significant number of colleagues have expressed concern around the backstop, and that is what we will be looking at,” May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London just now. That’s in line with our report the premier has shifted focus, having given up on cross-party talks succeeding.

Slack said May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, would continue to hold meetings with lawmakers today — including with some from the main opposition Labour Party, and that the door was still open for leader Jeremy Corbyn to join.

Asked about media reports (see 9 a.m.) the U.K. could seek a bilateral deal with Ireland — or even to amend the Good Friday Agreement — to avoid the need for a backstop, Slack said it’s “not something we’re looking at.”

Slack appeared to lay out the next battle with Parliament, saying the government doesn’t regard votes on Brexit amendments scheduled for Jan. 29 to be legally binding, but rather “an opportunity for the House to express its will.” Slack said a meaningful vote was still mandatory if the U.K. is to leave the EU with a deal, but the government won’t bring one until it’s confident of getting Parliament backing.

Rees-Mogg: Tory Support Hinges on Backstop (9:20 a.m.)

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a hardline pro-Brexit group of Conservative lawmakers, suggested in an LBC Radio phone-in on Monday that if May can resolve issues around the so-called Irish backstop, she could win over some members of Parliament who opposed her deal last week.

“If the backstop could be removed altogether, so would most of the problems be removed. Not all, but most,” Rees-Mogg said, adding that some MPs are still against the U.K.’s 39 billion-pound financial settlement with the EU “without any link to the trade deal in the future.”

Roth: EU Needs ‘Clear Signal’ From U.K. (9:10 a.m.)

The European Union is ready for talks on Brexit but needs a “clear signal” from the U.K. on its next steps, Michael Roth, Germany’s deputy foreign minister responsible for European affairs, said in an interview Monday with ARD television.

“I expect the British to say what they want,” Roth said. “Shakespeare couldn’t have done a better job in writing the tragedy we’re seeing at the moment in Britain.”

Roth said the EU is prepared to offer a customs union or membership of its internal market but that such proposals had been rejected by the U.K. He urged the British government to reconsider Brexit, adding that a second referendum is his “last hope.”

Ireland’s McEntee Rules Out Bilateral Talks (9 a.m.)

Ireland’s Minister for Europe Helen McEntee indicated little scope for a significant softening in the government’s position. In an interview with broadcaster RTE, she rejected the idea of bilateral talks with either the U.K. or the Democratic Unionist Party on the Withdrawal Agreement. She also dismissed the notion that somehow the Good Friday Agreement could be amended, referring to reports over the weekend that the U.K. government would seek an agreement with Dublin as an alternative to the backstop.

The only glimmer of hope she offered for May amounted to a clear restatement of the government’s position — if the U.K. shifted its red lines of exiting the customs union and the single market, that might address some of the concerns the backstop is designed to cover, she said.

Cooper Outlines Plans to Let MPs Delay Brexit (8:10 a.m.)

Labour politician Yvette Cooper has outlined her plans to delay Brexit in a BBC Radio interview, which she said is necessary to avoid the country “crashing over the cliff edge,’’ Cooper said.

The former minister has teamed up with Conservatives Nick Boles and Nicky Morgan, as well as other Labour members of Parliament, to propose a bill that would force the government to give Parliament a vote on extending Article 50 if by the end of February, it’s failed to get a deal agreed by lawmakers.

“Parliament has to show some responsibility and do something difficult and say well if the government needs more time, then we have to give it to them,” said Cooper. “This about building the consensus one step at a time. Let’s rule out the worst possible option.

Cooper also said she’s concerned that May appears to have ruled out a customs union, which was one way she could have brokered a parliamentary consensus on Brexit. “The government should be reopening those red lines,” she said.

Harrington: No Deal Gives Him ‘More Than Shivers’: (Earlier)

Business minister Richard Harrington told BBC Radio the thought of a no-deal Brexit brings “more than shivers, because I’ve examined in depth what may happen.” He said that trading on World Trade Organization terms isn’t for “sophisticated” relationships like that enjoyed by the U.K. and the bloc.

“This is fanciful nonsense and it should be stopped,” said Harrington, who has repeatedly made clear he’s prepared to quit his post if it becomes government policy to leave with no deal. “Crashing out in my view is an absolute disaster. It’s not a road to a free trade agreement, it’s not a road to anything.”

The comments come after Health Minister Steve Brine told BBC Radio overnight that he would find it “very, very hard” to stay in government if the May pursued a no-deal Brexit.

Coming Up:

May speaks in Parliament from 3:30 p.m.


May Is Said to Give Up on Cross-Party Talks to Fix BrexitEU Is Said to Be Split Over Delaying Brexit By as Much as a YearHow Parliament Can Seize Control of Brexit: A Step-by-Step Guide

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to show Coveney was reporting Barnier’s position in 1 p.m. entry, and to show quote is from Coveney — not Barnier.)

–With assistance from Iain Rogers, Dara Doyle, Robert Hutton, Jill Ward and Andrew Atkinson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at;Alex Morales in London at;Ian Wishart in Brussels at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Emma Ross-Thomas at, Stuart Biggs

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©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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