'All eyes on UK as they're set to bear consequences' – Barnier speaks amid hopes of soft Brexit

EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said “all eyes [are on] the British parliament” now as he said they will “bear the consequences” of the exit process.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Barnier said the EU is “not bargaining”.

“This is an exit process and Britain will bear the consequences,” he said.

“It is up to Britain to decide, one way or another.”

He added; “In all Brexit scenarios, the Good Friday Agreement will continue to apply”.

Mr Barnier spoke as British Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal has been given a new lease of life amid Eurosceptics’ fears that Brexit is slipping away from them.

However, the DUP is key to last ditch efforts to agree a deal, which would rule out a hard border.

With Westminster set to vote on a string of possible ways forward, including cancelling Brexit, some of Mrs May’s staunchest opponents are softening their attitudes.

Boris Johnson indicated he might be willing to vote for “this appalling deal” rather than risk “further delay, confusion and parliamentary jiggery”.

His comments followed those of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who claimed the choice facing hardliners was now “Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit”.

But Mr Rees-Mogg said he would only vote for the Withdrawal Agreement if the DUP jumped first. Senior Government figures now say they have “renewed hope” the UK is moving towards a softer Brexit.

The head of the European Council Donald Tusk urged the European Parliament not to “betray” the pro-European Britons who want a second referendum.

“You cannot betray the six million people who signed the petition to revoke Article 50, the one million people who marched for a People’s Vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union,” said Donald Tusk, who chairs summits of EU leaders.

In a tweet released just after his short speech, he added that the parliament should be open to a long extension if Britain wished to rethink its strategy.

The European Parliament should not ignore Britons who want to remain in the European Union and should be open to a long Brexit extension,

Today, in the House of Commons,  the UK government will historically cede power to MPs, who will vote on a range of  options. It comes as work continues on solutions to avoid a hard Border if the UK crashes out on April 12.

The Irish Independent has learned EU agencies are looking at the use of technology to electronically track goods belonging to ‘trusted traders’ crossing the Border.

However, this will not resolve the question of how to monitor animals.

Mrs May will not be bound to follow through on the outcome of tonight’s vote in the House of Commons, but it will give her a clear indication of what parliament will tolerate.

One motion would compel the government to negotiate a new UK-EU customs union after Brexit. Another proposes a so-called ‘common market 2.0’, which envisages the UK staying in the EU’s single market along with a special customs arrangement.

A third motion involves a Norway-style relationship – the single market minus any customs arrangement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has put forward its own plan for a close economic relationship with the EU.

The proposal includes a comprehensive customs union with the EU and close alignment with the single market.

The Irish Government would welcome a move towards any of these motions that amount to a softer Brexit.

However, the spectre of Brexit being watered down has actually given Mrs May a better chance of passing her own deal, which includes the Irish backstop.

Several members of the notoriously pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) have hinted that they are close to offering their support to the prime minister.

They are likely to reserve their final position after a meeting of the so-called 1992 Committee in Westminster at 5pm today.

Speculation is rife that Mrs May will outline her plans to step down as Conservative Party leader in exchange for backbenchers allowing her deal through.

This would clear the way for a new prime minister to oversee the next phase of Brexit negotiations, which deal with the future relationship between the UK and EU.

MP Daniel Kawczynski, of the ERG, said there had “definitely been a palpable shift”.

“It was a trickle, now it’s a flow. We Brexiteers are playing with fire, and we could get very, very burnt if this deal doesn’t get through,” he said.

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson last night accused the prime minister of “cravenly handing the helm” to backbench MPs.

But significantly, he added: “If people like me are to support this deal, something I bitterly oppose, then we need to see the proof that the second phase of negotiations will be different from the first.”

Well-known Brexiteer Mr Rees-Mogg said that he is now prepared to back the Withdrawal Agreement.

“I apologise for changing my mind,” he wrote in a UK newspaper. “I am now willing to support it if the Democratic Unionist Party does, and by doing so will be accused of infirmity of purpose by some and treachery by others.”

Mr Rees-Mogg said he change allegiances “because the numbers in Parliament make it clear that all the other potential outcomes are worse and an awkward reality needs to be faced”.

“A long delay would make remaining in the EU the most likely outcome,” he said.

If more MPs come on board with her deal, Mrs May could try to bring her deal back to parliament for a third vote as early as tomorrow.

A major stumbling block remains though in the form of the DUP. Arlene Foster’s party says it won’t be bullied into backing a “toxic” deal.

The party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said extending Brexit negotiations by one year would be preferable to “volunteering to be locked into the prison of the withdrawal deal with the cell door key in the pocket of Michel Barnier”.

Other DUP MPs indicated they still favour a cliff-edge Brexit over any other option currently available.

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