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Finland, EU reject UK PM’s bid to re-open Brexit deal

A spokesperson for the Finnish PM Antti Rinne said that the EU would not re-negotiate the existing agreement.

Britannian pääministeri Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP

Finland has poured cold water on a bid by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to re-negotiate a deal brokered by his predecessor Theresa May to manage the country’s departure from the European Union.

On Tuesday, Finnish premier Antti Rinne said through a spokesperson that the EU has no intention of revisiting the separation agreement that May finalised in November 2018, following UK citizens’ 2016 vote to leave the regional bloc.

The spokesperson indicated that the matter had been discussed on Monday. Finland began its presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July.

European Union Council president Donald Tusk said that a letter Johnson had sent to the EU outlining his new proposal did not contain a realistic alternative to the so-called "backstop" element of May’s deal.

"The backstop is an insurance [sic] to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found. Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it," Tusk tweeted on Tuesday afternoon.

The Johnson plan: Ditch the backstop

A key element of Johnson’s proposal to re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement on the table involves abandoning the backstop, which he described as undemocratic and impossible to implement.

The arrangement is a fundamental part of the separation agreement negotiated with May and an essential criterion for Ireland to accept the UK’s withdrawal from the union.

The backstop refers to a system by which the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK – remains as open as possible, according to the BBC. The arrangement is also seen as important factor in preventing a return to instability in Ireland.

The parties to the Brexit deal have agreed not to introduce physical borders or border arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The backstop arrangement would come into the picture in the event that there is no agreement on an open border. It requires close ties between the EU and Northern Ireland and in practice would require the latter to abide by certain EU regulations.

The UK PM believes that British lawmakers could be persuaded to accept a Brexit withdrawal deal if the backstop provision is eliminated from the current agreement.

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