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Ireland says UK proposals to replace backstop 'don't come close'

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By Alice Tidey with Reuters
Ireland's Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney
Ireland's Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
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Ireland is open to suggestions to break the Brexit stalemate over the backstop but Britain has not provided any alternative arrangements that "do the same job," Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday.

Speaking from Prague where he met Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, Coveney told reporters: "I think we need to be honest here, that the alternative arrangements that have been discussed to date do not do the same job as the backstop, not even close."

The backstop is an insurance policy negotiated as part of the Withdrawal Agreement between the European Union and the UK and designed to safeguard peace in Ireland by preventing the erection of a physical border.

It is meant to kick in when Britain exits the bloc and last through a proposed transition period until a better solution can be found.

But British lawmakers have rejected the Withdrawal Agreement three times with Brexiteer MPs blaming the backstop, which they argue would split up the UK as Northern Ireland would remain in the EU's customs union.

Read more:

Brexit: what is the Irish backstop and why does Boris Johnson want it ditched?

Northern Ireland conflict 50 years on: will a no-deal Brexit threaten the peace?

What 'alternative arrangements' to the backstop did Theresa May's government put to the EU?

Boris Johnson, the country's new prime minister, has vowed that Britain will be out of the EU by October 31 with or without a deal and urged his EU counterparts to scrap the backstop and return to the negotiating table to find another solution.

The bloc, however, has repeatedly refused the ditch the backstop with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying so to Johnson last week when he visited Berlin and Paris.

"Let's not pretend that solutions exist when they might not," Coveney said on Tuesday, adding, however: "Our message is simple: We want to work this out."

"There needs to be a deal done on the basis of honesty, in terms of the complexity of the issue we are facing," he also said.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also reiterated his support to Ireland on Tuesday during a telephone conversation with Johnson.

"President Juncker repeated his willingness to work constructively with Prime Minister Johnson and to look at any concrete proposals he may have, as long as they are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement," a readout from the Commission said.

"President Juncker underlined that the EU27's support for Ireland is steadfast and that the EU will continue to be very attentive to Ireland's interests," the statement went on.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also told Johnson on Tuesday that "the EU27 remain open to concrete proposals compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement: respect for the integrity of the single market and no hard border on the Irish isle."

British opposition leaders on Tuesday announced that they would work together to bring about legislation to prevent the country from crashing out of the EU without a deal on October 31.

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