The EU-27 also said it stands ready to start negotiations on future trade arrangements as soon as the U.K. leaves in March. They also repeated the Irish backstop is only an insurance policy.
“It is the Union’s firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered,” the 27 countries said.
The EU added that if the Irish backstop policy needed to be triggered, it would only apply “temporarily” until there’s an agreement in place.
The idea of the backstop is to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — a critical issue for both the EU and the U.K.
Brexiteers and other U.K. lawmakers believe this plan forces Northern Ireland to follow EU rules. However, both Westminster and the EU have said this would not be their aim and if it were to happen, it would only apply until they implement new trade arrangements.
“There will be no new legally binding obligations imposed on the European Union. That’s crystal clear,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels Thursday night.
The U.K. Parliament is legally scheduled to vote on the withdrawal agreement before January 21.
Sterling was down 0.6 percent against the dollar at $1.2591, with Reuters citing May’s unsuccessful Brexit trip to Brussels. The British currency also dropped 0.3 percent versus the euro to 90.025 pence.