Donald Tusk rejects Boris Johnson's call for removal of Irish backstop from Brexit deal

European Council President has rejected UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request for the backstop to be dropped from the Brexit deal insisting there were no other feasible solutions

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk

European Council President Donald Tusk has rejected UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request for the Irish backstop to be dropped from the Brexit deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May. 

In his rejection of the proposal, Tusk implied that British government was refusing to admit that there were no realistic alternatives. 

“The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found. Those against the backstop are not proposing realistic alternatives and in fact support re-establishing a border. Even if they do not admit it,” Tusk said in a tweet on Tuesday.  

The EU’s response highlights the stalemate over the backstop, a policy intended to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland. The UK government agreed the backstop under Theresa May, but hardline Brexiters have long called for it to be cut or made subject to a time limit, with May’s deal having been rejected by the UK parliament three times.

Shortly after, the European Commission issued its own statement saying it shared Tusk’s view.

A spokeswoman for the commission welcomed the UK government’s “engagement and commitment to an orderly withdrawal” while making clear its objections.

“We also note that the letter does not provide a legal operational solution to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. It does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be and in fact it recognises that there is no guarantee that such arrangements will be in place by the end of the transitional period.”

Quickly after, Johnson’s spokesman denied Tusk’s allegation that the UK was in effect supporting the re-establishment of a border.

“We are deeply invested in the peace, prosperity and security of Northern Ireland and always will be and we have been clear that we will never place infrastructure, checks, or controls at the border,” the spokesman said.

“But it is clear that unless the withdrawal agreement is reopened and the backstop abolished there is no prospect of a deal. It has already been rejected three times by MPs and is simply unviable as a solution, as the PM’s letter makes clear. 

“We are ready to negotiate, in good faith, an alternative to the backstop, with provisions to ensure that the Irish border issues are dealt with where they should always have been: in the negotiations on the future agreement between the UK and the EU.”

On Monday night, Johnson wrote to the Tusk calling for the "undemocratic" backstop to be dropped from the deal on Monday night.

In his letter, Johnson said that the government wanted the UK to leave the EU with a deal, insisting that this was its “highest priority”.

He pointed to the unique relationship between Ireland and the UK, adding the government remained committed to “working with Ireland on the peace process, and to furthering Northern Ireland’s security and prosperity”.

The government, he said, was “unconditionally committed” to the spirit and letter of the UK’s obligations under the Good Friday agreement, which it noted did not depend upon nor required a particular customs or regulatory regime.