Michel Barnier has described Boris Johnson’s solution for replacing the Irish backstop as “unacceptable” as the EU’s chief negotiator gave his most downbeat assessment yet of the chances of striking a Brexit deal by 31 October.
Standing alongside the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas following a meeting in Berlin, Barnier said the UK government’s position had to change for there to be any hope of success.
The British prime minister had declared on his way to New York for the UN general assembly that he was “cautiously optimistic” he could persuade key EU leaders to accept his proposals for the Irish border.
Johnson wants to find agreement on a deal ahead of an EU summit on 17 October that he can put to parliament in order for the UK to leave the bloc at the end of the month.
But as he sought to break the Brexit impasse by appealing to EU capitals and the European council’s president, Donald Tusk, Barnier appeared to scotch any hope of a rethink in Brussels.
The EU insists it will not sign up to a deal that creates a regulatory and customs border on the island of Ireland, as proposed by the UK in the papers tabled last week by the government’s chief negotiator, David Frost.
Barnier said: “The new government of the UK wants us to get rid of this solution, the so-called backstop and wants … a regulatory and customs land border on the island of Ireland.
“The UK government also wants the EU to change the way the internal market and border control operates after Brexit.
“As I am sure you will understand, this is unacceptable. My mandate is clear of the 27 leaders, the EU and the European parliament, safeguarding peace and stability in Ireland and protecting the integrity of the single market.