Sobering warning on Brexit from drinks body | Ireland

Ruben Ruiz
October 16, 2018

European Union negotiator Michel Barnier said after meeting British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab that they could still not bridge a gap between his "backstop" demands that Northern Ireland stay in the EU's economic zone if there is a risk that border checks with European Union member Ireland could revive conflict, and London's rejection of any checks on trade between the province and the British mainland.

One diplomat said that if there are enough indications a deal can be outlined, the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May would meet to evaluate it on Monday.

Mrs May has been ringing round European Union leaders including Angela Merkel and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, and will be telephoning the most hawkish - French president Emmanuel Macron - later.

"And delivering this is vital for our security too because economic relations sit at the heart of all our partnerships including the vital security alliances we have with our friends in Europe".

A hastily arranged meeting between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and European Union negotiator Michel Barnier could not produce a breakthrough, leaving the process on a knife-edge ahead of a key summit on Wednesday.

The DUP vehemently opposes any checks between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain after Brexit, which is due in March and would be the United Kingdom's biggest trade and foreign policy shift for more than four decades.

"I am cautiously optimistic that we can take steps next week but a lot depends on the talks happening in the coming days", Rutte said at his weekly press conference.

This would come into effect at the end of a post-Brexit transition period if a future free trade deal - which would keep the border open - had either not been agreed, or did not work.

The Prime Minister faces a potential Tory mutiny and any deal could also have major repercussions for her pact with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Britain rejects the EU's proposed solution - to keep Northern Ireland inside the bloc's single market and customs union after the rest of the UK leaves - because it would create new barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK The EU has asked for a counter-proposal from Britain.

"With several big issues still to resolve, including the Northern Ireland backstop, it was jointly agreed that face-to-face talks were necessary", Raab's office said.

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It comes as the Times newspaper reports the PM is contemplating ending the Conservative-DUP agreement in order get her Brexit deal through Parliament.

And, in a change of tone, Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, told reporters she also hoped for a "sensible" Brexit.

With the negotiations coming to a head, the central focus of the discussions on Thursday is thought to have been the issue of the Northern Ireland "backstop" meant to ensure there is no return of a "hard border" with the Republic.

May described that as asking for "a backstop to a backstop" and said again Northern Ireland could not be treated differently from the rest of Britain.

Johnson, the bookmakers' favourite to replace May, is the latest critic to redouble efforts to urge the prime minister to rethink her plan to leave the EU.

And in Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the bloc's own "no deal" preparations were being stepped up.

"But there are some fundamentals that we can't compromise on and that is the need for the United Kingdom to honour the commitments it made last December which is that we will have a withdrawal agreement and as part of that there must be a legally operable and legally binding assurance that no matter what happens, that no hard border will emerge on the island of Ireland".

"At the moment we don't even know what the proposal is that everybody has fallen out about over the weekend", the shadow Brexit secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The fraught issue of the Irish border continues to be a "significant problem" in Brexit talks, government sources have said.

And Coveney said: "We want to see an outcome here that settles nerves that allows us to move ahead with a managed, sensible Brexit".

Other reports by GizPress

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