Post-Brexit Border solution could take years, says former EU negotiator

UK consultants do not see an invisible border being agreed until deal on EU-UK trade

Failure to agree a deal on the withdrawal by the UK’s formal exit from the EU on March 29th, 2019, could provide “the kind of salutary shock that would be needed for both sides to get their acts together”, claims Sir Michael Leigh.

Failure to agree a deal on the withdrawal by the UK’s formal exit from the EU on March 29th, 2019, could provide “the kind of salutary shock that would be needed for both sides to get their acts together”, claims Sir Michael Leigh.

 

A former EU negotiator has said he does not see London and Brussels agreeing a deal to avoid a hard border in Ireland in this month’s Brexit negotiations and that it could take years to find a solution.

Sir Michael Leigh, a former European Commission director general from 2006 to 2011, said a crisis might be needed to break the impasse between EU and UK with both sides realising that they need to “kick the can down the road” but that this might not come until the eve of Brexit next March.

The failure to agree a deal on the withdrawal by the UK’s formal exit from the EU on March 29th, 2019, could provide “the kind of salutary shock that would be needed for both sides to get their acts together”, he said.

The former EU official was speaking during a visit to Dublin with Lord Francis Maude, the former trade minister in David Cameron’s government, for meetings about Brexit.

Both men, who now work at law firm Covington, do not envisage a solution to maintain an invisible border being agreed until there is a deal on the future EU-UK trading relationship.

They also do not see the UK agreeing to a legal text around the EU’s proposed default “backstop” agreement, which would keep Northern Ireland under EU economic rules in the absence of an alternative plan.

Sir Michael, who was the EU’s negotiator with would-be member states, said he did not believe the run-up to this month’s EU summit was “a crunch moment” in finding a deal on the backstop or an alternative solution.

Ireland’s stance

“The Irish Government is right to insist that the commitment of both sides should be translated into practical terms but I don’t think there is an immediate solution to that in the offing so I think that the European Council will come and go as an intermediate stage,” he said.

Lord Maude said the Government’s push for agreement on the legal text on the backstop by the next European Council meeting of EU leaders at the end of this month was not helpful to the negotiations.

“What the Border arrangements, how they end up being, will have to reflect what the broader trading relationship is so to say that you have to agree to one aspect of that before you sort out the rest of it doesn’t make sense. That is putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

The former cabinet minister believes time – the standstill of the 21-month post-Brexit transition and possibly years more – will help solve the Border issue.

“Finding a technology solution to the Border isn’t feasible in the short term and everything I understand about it suggests it will be four or five years before there is a practical technology solution to the Border,” he said.