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British leaders give EU possible alternatives to unsettled 'backstop'

By Clyde Hughes
British leaders give EU possible alternatives to unsettled 'backstop'
Demonstrators rally outside Parliament in London, Great Britain. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE

Sept. 19 (UPI) -- The British government submitted documents Thursday detailing a possible alternative to the Irish "backstop" provision that's been at the heart of disagreement among lawmakers and leaders trying to reach a deal to leave the European Union.

Officials said the "confidential" documents detail the government's designs for ensuring the free flow of trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland once Britain withdraws from the alliance. They added, however, that the outline is still only at the informal stage.

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"We will table formal written solutions when we are ready, not according to an artificial deadline, and when the EU is clear that it will engage constructively on them as a replacement for the backstop," a government representative said.

The development occurred one day after EU leaders said for the first time they would be open to considering an alternative to the backstop, which seeks a "soft" border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to ensure future trade efficiency.

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Finland Prime Minister Antti Rinne told British leaders he wants London to make a formal proposal by Sept. 30, a time frame suggested by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

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Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who's expected to meet with European Union negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday, called the EU position on the backstop "rigid" and said the bloc must accept some risk in a new agreement.

"We are committed to carving out a landing zone and we stand ready to share relevant texts," Barclay said. "But it must be in the spirit of negotiation with flexibility and with a negotiating partner that itself is willing to compromise.

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"Great political leaders have always respected the need to take risks. Yet a refusal by the commission to accept any risk would be a failure of statecraft, and put at risk the future relationship of the U.K. and the EU."

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