Hammond says EU won't consider alternatives to backstop for now

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain, February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

(Reuters) – British Finance Minister Philip Hammond said on Tuesday it was clear the European Union will not now consider alternatives to the Irish backstop to help the UK government win support for its Brexit withdrawal deal, but that such options could be valuable in the future.

“The so-called ‘Malthouse’ initiative to explore possible alternative arrangements to the backstop is a valuable effort …” he said at a dinner in London to an association of manufacturers, but added, “It is clear that the EU will not consider replacing the backstop with such an alternative arrangement now in order to address our immediate challenge.”

The Malthouse Compromise, championed by Conservative lawmakers from the party’s pro- and anti-EU wings, seeks to use technology to replace the backstop, an insurance policy designed to stop a return to a hard border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

The backstop has become the main point of contention in the proposed Brexit deal. May agreed on the protocol with EU leaders in November but then saw it rejected last month by UK lawmakers.

The European Union has made it clear that it will not reopen the Brexit withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, and it will not accept alternative arrangements.

British Prime Minister Theresa May travels to Brussels on Wednesday to meet European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Paul Sandle in London; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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