Brexit: Leaked document says UK proposal fails to solve Irish backstop issues

20 September 2019, 18:12 | Updated: 20 September 2019, 20:55

A leaked European Commission memo has said the latest draft proposals for a new Brexit deal "fall short of satisfying all the objectives of the Irish backstop".

But shortly after the leak, the UK government hit back, with a source telling Sky News the ideas are "serious and workable" and that "leaks from Brussels on Twitter are par for the course - you can set your watch by them".

Yesterday, in a UK exclusive interview with Sky's Sophy Ridge, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed he had been sent documents by Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlining the ideas for a new deal.

However, the memo obtained by Sky News tonight said the proposals did not provide "legally operational solutions" to the controversial backstop.

It added that the draft failed to:

  • Avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland
  • Protect the all-island economy and north-south co-operation
  • Preserve the integrity of the single market and Ireland's place in it

The UK government has made clear the documents sent to the EU this week are not formal indications of its position, but rather ideas for discussion.

A source told Sky News: "The ideas that we've put forward to avoid a hard border are serious and workable.

"As for the Commission, two months ago they said we couldn't reopen the withdrawal agreement and there was absolutely no alternative to the backstop. Now we are having detailed discussions.

"Leaks from Brussels on Twitter are par for the course. You can set your watch by them. What we're focused on is actually getting a deal in the room. We trust they'll do the same."

Downing Street is expected in the coming weeks to come forward with formal alternatives to the backstop - an insurance policy to stop a hard border returning on the island of Ireland.

The memo from the European Commission to the European Council and European Parliament, comes as Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay continues talks in Brussels.

"We both recognise that a deal is in the interests of both sides," Mr Barclay said after his sit-down with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

He added that "no-one wants to see no-deal" but cautioned there was "still a lot of work to do" to avoid the scenario.

However Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that while the backstop had only ever been a "means to an end", "we haven't seen any proposals" that could replace it.

In his interview with Ridge - which took place before he read the latest proposals - Mr Juncker said a no-deal Brexit would have "catastrophic consequences" and that he was doing "everything to get a deal".

He said he did not have "an erotic relation" to the backstop, which he said he was prepared to remove from a withdrawal agreement, so long as "alternative arrangements [are put in place] allowing us and Britain to achieve the main objectives of the backstop. All of them".

Mr Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal by 31 October but insists he is working hard towards getting a deal with Brussels.