Foreign ministry: Ball in UK court on Brexit withdrawal amends

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The treaty on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, rejected by the UK House of Commons, cannot be altered without a rewording of the UK's positions, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is particularly in regard to the status of the UK's only land border, between Northern Ireland and (EU nation) the Republic of Ireland.

"The treaty currently on the table, which has the political approval of the EU and the UK government, is the optimum possible,'' ministry spokesperson Liisa Toots told BNS on Wednesday.

''The 27 EU member states are unanimous on this, and see no possibility for the treaty to be changed, unless the red lines from the UK change. Avoidance of Irish border control is a part of that treaty," she went on.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal treaty was rejected on 15 January in a House of Commons vote, by 432 to 202 votes. On Tuesday, the Commons then voted on a number of Brexit measures, including ruling out the possibility of a no-deal scenario.

The majority of lawmakers also expressed a desire to reopen talks on the exit deal. In addition, parliament suggested special measures concerning the island of Ireland be substituted with an alternative, while not specifying what that may be. 

Irish-UK border issue

"Yesterday evening's vote in the lower house [ie. the Commons] of the UK parliament did not bring final clarity on the UK's path out of the deadlock. However, it provided confirmation that there is cross-party support for ruling out the no-deal scenario at the end of March. Britain leaving with a treaty, and defending their [EU] citizens and entrepreneurs, continues to be the interest of EU member states," Ms Toots continued.

An amendment sponsored by MP Graham Brady (Conservative) and calling for the so-called Irish backstop to be replaced was approved by the Commons by 317 to 301 on Tuesday evening. The backstop in short means that Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, will continue to have an open border with the Republic of Ireland regardless of the outcome of Brexit. Critics have said it would lead to Northern Ireland have a differing status from the rest of the UK, as regards customs unity with the EU, amongst other things.

"When the UK has achieved domestic unanimity over its next steps, it will be possible to discuss with the EU movement towards an orderly exit and agreements on the future relations between the EU and the UK. Until then, we will continue preparations for all possible solutions," Ms Toots added.

With exactly two months to go before the scheduled UK leave date on 29 March, European Council President Donald Tusk reaffirmed on Tuesday evening that the UK exit treaty is not up for renegotiation.

The Estonian tax authority, the MTA, has already advised companies dealing with the UK to make preparations for a no-deal outcome.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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