BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland’s foreign minister said on Monday he had proposed limiting the Irish backstop to five years in order to unblock the Brexit deadlock, but the idea was immediately knocked back by Ireland as being out of step with the EU’s stance.
The Irish backstop - an insurance policy to avoid the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland - is the most contentious element of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal which was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament last week.
“I’ve just discussed that idea with my (Irish) counterpart Simon Coveney and also with (British foreign minister) Jeremy Hunt today, I think it would be one of the solutions,” Poland’s Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters on entering a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“So that’s an idea to be discussed within the European Union. I don’t know if it’s feasible - if Ireland is ready to put forward such a proposal, but I have an impression that it might unblock the negotiations.”
Coveney said the idea would not work.
“He mentioned that issue in Dublin in December when he visited,” Coveney told reporters in Brussels when asked about the Polish proposal.
“I made it very clear that putting a time limit on an insurance mechanism, which is what the backstop is, effectively means that it’s not a backstop at all. I don’t think that reflects EU thinking in relation to the withdrawal agreement.”
On Monday, May sought to break the deadlock in parliament over Brexit by proposing to seek further concessions from the EU on the backstop, and said she looked forward to exploring Poland’s proposal.
Jim Shannon, a lawmaker from the Democratic Unionist Party which props up May’s minority government but opposes her Brexit deal, said it could be willing to support the agreement she has reached with Brussels if the backstop were time-limited.
“I think we are probably are of a mind that if it was time-limited, within this term of parliament, we would probably look at that and consider that,” he told Sky News, adding that he thought a two-year limit was “something we could go with”.
Shannon said he believed many of the 118 of May’s own Conservative lawmakers who voted against her deal would also be willing to back it if the backstop had a time limit.
Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Kylie MacLellan in London; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Janet Lawrence