Britain’s Brexit minister on Thursday urged the European Union to show flexibility and creativity in striking a deal, although he stuck to his country’s position that the contentious Irish backstop arrangement must go.
Stephen Barclay was speaking in Madrid just six weeks before the date on which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union.
Britain wants a deal to guide its relationship with its biggest trading partner after it leaves the bloc, but would leave without one if both sides cannot agree in the next 42 days, Barclay said.
“The prize of a deal should focus the minds of both sides on this need for creativity and flexibility,” he said.
“So let’s work creatively to secure a deal, a deal the UK is committed to get in, a deal without a backstop … a deal which will pass both the UK parliament and the European parliament.”
He listed issues with the Irish arrangement – an insurance policy to keep open the border on the island – which made it impossible to accept, including the difficulty of guaranteeing it would be temporary.
Barclay said Britain was ready to share “relevant texts” in negotiation, but was in no rush to comply with EU requests for specific written proposals to formalise an alternative.
“Why risk crystallising an undesirable result this November when both sides can work together until December 2020?” he asked. “We risk being trapped in a zero-sum game and that will lead to zero-sum outcomes.”
Barclay is due to meet Spain’s acting foreign minister and newly appointed European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, as well as members of the British community in Spain.
More than 300,000 Britons are registered as living in Spain, and many more have migrated without registering.
Business ties between the two countries would also be complicated by a messy departure. Barclay said international groups like British Airways and Iberia airlines operator IAG (ICAG.MC) did not want uncertainty “dragging out”.
Britain is ready to continue discussions about its territory of Gibraltar on Spain’s southern coast, which some 10,000 Spaniards enter every day, Barclay said, adding conversation on the matter so far had been “constructive and pragmatic”.
The conservative government would abide by a ruling from Britain’s top judicial body, the Supreme Court, on Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks, he said.
The court is hearing legal arguments over whether Johnson acted lawfully and may decide as soon as Friday.
Barclay said he will meet EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday.
“Whilst we seek a deal, we recognise we may not be able to agree a deal and in that instance we will leave with no deal,” he said.