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European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (L), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (C) and Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrive to attend a debate on the Future of Europe at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, January 17, 2018. Vincent Kessler/Reuters

EU chief says Britain can still stay with union despite vote to leave

BRUSSELS — European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday maintained the offer for Britain to remain in the EU even after both sides have entered the second phase of Brexit negotiations.

Juncker told the EU legislature that even if the famed Article 50 is set up to let Britain leave the bloc, there is another article that “would allow them to accede again and I would be happy to facilitate that.”

Juncker told the lawmakers that “we are not throwing the British out. We would like them to stay. And if they so wish they should be allowed to do so.”

The British voted in a June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, and the date is set for March 29, 2019.

Both sides came to a partial and tentative agreement last month on specific issues like the amount of money that Britain will have to pay upon its departure, and the status of the now border between the EU’s Republic of Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.

The border has largely disappeared since Britain and Ireland joined the EU’s single market in 1993 and Northern Ireland’s violent “Troubles” wound down after the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told legislators that it was essential there would be no backsliding on those commitments made at the summit last month.

“The U.K. has guaranteed that whatever the future relationship with the EU is, a hard border on the island will be avoided,” Varadkar said. “There can be no backsliding on this.”

The December agreement indicated that Britain would promise to keep trade flowing by maintaining full regulatory alignment with issues affecting Ireland, especially on trade rules.

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