The European Union flag is displayed on stage during the launch of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

EU Has No Wish to Trap U.K., Irish Finance Minister Says

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union has no wish to “trap” the U.K. in the so-called backstop, Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said, as he urged lawmakers in London to back Theresa May’s plan for exiting the bloc.

The need to keep the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border -- long the scene of tense checkpoints and violent protest -- invisible has shaped Brexit talks and led to an impasse over the so-called backstop. The measure could tie Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. to EU rules indefinitely, according to many British lawmakers.

The backstop is “an insurance policy that would only be used if we are unable to agree a sufficiently ambitious future relationship between the EU and the U.K. that would remove any need for it,” Donohoe said in a speech at Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London on Friday.

“If it is triggered, it would be temporary, until a better solution is found. We have no desire to trap the U.K. indefinitely in the backstop,” he said.

Donohoe said he welcomed a vote by the House of Commons against a no-deal Brexit. However, he said lawmakers needed to set out in concrete terms how they propose to avoid such a scenario from unfolding.

Parliament has voted to extend the Brexit day deadline, but the crash-out option still remains the legal default, at least for now. The country is due to end 46 years of membership in the bloc on March 29, with the looming threat of economic chaos.

On Thursday, May kept her deal with the EU on life support by winning the backing of British politicians for a delay. She’s now offering a simple choice for members of Parliament: back the deal they’ve emphatically rejected twice and deliver Brexit with a short delay, or risk being trapped in an extension of more than a year, with the terms set by the bloc.

Donohoe said the EU needs to know what an extension will be used for, and highlighted the need to avoid the scenario of rolling cliff-edges. That’s a risk if a short extension were granted but turned out not to be enough. Donohoe said it’s particularly important to avoid that extended uncertainty from a financial and economic stability perspective.

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