Brexit: May races to make progress on border deal

Commission says final deadline is Sunday if EU council is to make decision on next phase

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar explains a point after a meeting  the prime minister of The Netherlands Mark Rutte in Dublin on Wednesday night. Photograph: EPA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar explains a point after a meeting the prime minister of The Netherlands Mark Rutte in Dublin on Wednesday night. Photograph: EPA

 

British prime minister Theresa May is facing a race against time to progress the Brexit talks and resolve deadlock over the Irish border which threatens to drag on until the New Year.

Mrs May is hoping to make a new offer by Friday to satisfy both the Irish Government and the Democratic Unionist Party.

Negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union have reached an impasse in relation to the Irish Border after the DUP refused to accept a proposal that would have seen “regulatory alignment” between the North and the Republic in a bid to avoid a hard border.

Pressure is growing on Mrs May to get leaders at the December 14th European Council summit to declare sufficient progress has been made on divorce issues so trade talks can begin, with business chiefs warning companies will activate contingency plans that will cost Britain jobs if there is further delay.

“So far there is no white smoke,” a Commission spokesman told journalists at the daily briefing in Brussels on Thursday. The spokesman also hinted that London may have until Sunday to come up with a revised proposal.

He reiterated that president Jean Claude Juncker said it must happen this week if preparations for the summit could be met.

The deadline had not gone away - and the “Commission works 24/7, our week extending to Sunday.”

Earlier the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told member states the British government had 48 hours to agree a text on a potential deal.

Mr Barnier informed EU ambassadors on Thursday that Downing Street had told him a potential solution was being worked on that could possibly satisfy both the DUP and the Irish Government but that it had yet to be signed off by any of those involved.

The DUP has rejected any suggestion that the North will be treated differently to the rest of the UK post-Brexit.

British prime minister Theresa May is set to bring forward a revised text to be added to the Irish Brexit deal within the next 24 hours in an effort to solve the log jam.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday night he would consider any new proposals from Ms May but insisted the Irish position remained that the substance and meaning of the original deal must not be altered.

Regulatory alignment

On the issue of “regulatory alignment” - the phrase around which the Irish Brexit deal is anchored - Mr Varadkar said this did not mean Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the exact same rules. He said “not everything” would be aligned. “It means regulatory alignment where it applies to North-South co-operation, where it applies to the all-island economy, the kind of things that might give rise to the slow unwinding of what we have now.

“While we are willing to consider them, we believe the agreement we had on Monday is one that would work for Ireland. We would have to ensure that any new wording is consistent with that.

“We didn’t discuss the detail of any new language. What we agreed was the prime minister’s negotiating team would make contact with the European Commission taskforce, the negotiating team that is negotiating for Europe, including Ireland, with any proposed new text and we would consider it from there,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May spoke earlier on the phone on Wednesday.

Another meeting of diplomats of the 27 member states has been pencilled in for Friday evening, should the UK find an agreement with the DUP on a solution.

If the UK fails to agree a joint position with the European commission by Friday, the member states informed Mr Barnier they would not have time to take it back to their capitals for scrutiny ahead of next week’s critical European council meeting.

In that scenario, the leaders would once again rule that insufficient progress had been made on the opening issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border for talks on trade and a transition period to start.

A failure to move talks on in December would mean that the terms of a transition period could potentially only be discussed after the next European council summit of leaders in March, by which time key businesses in the UK will have had to make decisions over their location and investments in the country.

Regulatory alignment

On the issue of “regulatory alignment” - the phrase around which the Irish Brexit deal is anchored - Mr Varadkar said this did not mean Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the exact same rules. He said “not everything” would be aligned. “It means regulatory alignment where it applies to North-South co-operation, where it applies to the all-island economy, the kind of things that might give rise to the slow unwinding of what we have now.

“While we are willing to consider them, we believe the agreement we had on Monday is one that would work for Ireland. We would have to ensure that any new wording is consistent with that.

“We didn’t discuss the detail of any new language. What we agreed was the prime minister’s negotiating team would make contact with the European Commission taskforce, the negotiating team that is negotiating for Europe, including Ireland, with any proposed new text and we would consider it from there,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May spoke earlier on the phone on Wednesday.

Another meeting of diplomats of the 27 member states has been pencilled in for Friday evening, should the UK find an agreement with the DUP on a solution.

If the UK fails to agree a joint position with the European commission by Friday, the member states informed Mr Barnier they would not have time to take it back to their capitals for scrutiny ahead of next week’s critical European council meeting.

In that scenario, the leaders would once again rule that insufficient progress had been made on the opening issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border for talks on trade and a transition period to start.

A failure to move talks on in December would mean that the terms of a transition period could potentially only be discussed after the next European council summit of leaders in March, by which time key businesses in the UK will have had to make decisions over their location and investments in the country.

Emergency summit

It is possible the leaders would call an emergency summit in January or February to agree to move talks on and discuss the terms of a transition period.

But the longer it takes the British government to offer certainty over trading terms after March 2019, firms will make decisions that will cost the British economy.

Mr Varadkar said there was “room to manoeuvre” the deal into the right position before the European council summit next week.

He said: “Having consulted with people in London, [MRS MAY]wants to come back to us with text tonight and tomorrow. And I expect to move forward as well - I want us to move forward if it’s possible next week.”

Mr Barnier’s and Mr Varadkar’s comments came as Conservative and DUP sources sounded downbeat about the prospect of a quick consensus between the government and the party that is in effect propping it up in Westminster.

DUP sources in Belfast were the most negative, suggesting talks could “creep into January”, but Whitehall officials were also very cautious about predicting any breakthrough soon.

An end to the stalemate on the Irish border issue could come at any time if the DUP or Ireland make concessions on the wording of the proposals, which set out plans for some “regulatory alignment” between Dublin and Northern Ireland after leaving the EU.

But the DUP is currently still not satisfied that No 10 is offering enough in the way of guarantees that Northern Ireland will be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the UK after Brexit.

Members of the House of Commons Brexit committee are due to visit the Irish border and Armagh on Thursday. - Guardian

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told member states the British government has 48 hours to agree a text on a potential deal or it be told that negotiations will not move on to the next stage.

Mr Barnier informed EU ambassadors on Thursday that Downing Street had told him a potential solution was being worked out that could possibly satisfy both the Democratic Unionist Party and the Irish Government but that it had yet to be signed off by any of those involved.

Negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union have reached an impasse in relation to the Irish Border after the DUP refused to accept a proposal that would have seen “regulatory alignment” between the North and the Republic in a bid to avoid a hard border.

The DUP has rejected any suggestion that the North will be treated differently to the rest of the UK post-Brexit.

British prime minister Theresa May is set to bring forward a revised text to be added to the Irish Brexit deal within the next 24 hours in an effort to solve the log jam.

“So far there is no white smoke,” a Commission spokesman told journalists at the daily briefing in Brussels on Thursday. The spokesman also hinted that London may have until Sunday to come up with a revised proposal.

He reiterated that president Jean Claude Juncker said it must happen this week if preparations for the summit could be met.

The deadline had not gone away - and the “Commission works 24/7, our week extending to Sunday.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday night he would consider any new proposals from Ms May but insisted the Irish position remained that the substance and meaning of the original deal must not be altered.

Regulatory alignment

On the issue of “regulatory alignment” - the phrase around which the Irish Brexit deal is anchored - Mr Varadkar said this did not mean Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the exact same rules. He said “not everything” would be aligned. “It means regulatory alignment where it applies to North-South co-operation, where it applies to the all-island economy, the kind of things that might give rise to the slow unwinding of what we have now.

“While we are willing to consider them, we believe the agreement we had on Monday is one that would work for Ireland. We would have to ensure that any new wording is consistent with that.

“We didn’t discuss the detail of any new language. What we agreed was the prime minister’s negotiating team would make contact with the European Commission taskforce, the negotiating team that is negotiating for Europe, including Ireland, with any proposed new text and we would consider it from there,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May spoke earlier on the phone on Wednesday.

Another meeting of diplomats of the 27 member states has been pencilled in for Friday evening, should the UK find an agreement with the DUP on a solution.

If the UK fails to agree a joint position with the European commission by Friday, the member states informed Mr Barnier they would not have time to take it back to their capitals for scrutiny ahead of next week’s critical European council meeting.

In that scenario, the leaders would once again rule that insufficient progress had been made on the opening issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border for talks on trade and a transition period to start.

A failure to move talks on in December would mean that the terms of a transition period could potentially only be discussed after the next European council summit of leaders in March, by which time key businesses in the UK will have had to make decisions over their location and investments in the country.

Regulatory alignment

On the issue of “regulatory alignment” - the phrase around which the Irish Brexit deal is anchored - Mr Varadkar said this did not mean Northern Ireland and the Republic would have the exact same rules. He said “not everything” would be aligned. “It means regulatory alignment where it applies to North-South co-operation, where it applies to the all-island economy, the kind of things that might give rise to the slow unwinding of what we have now.

“While we are willing to consider them, we believe the agreement we had on Monday is one that would work for Ireland. We would have to ensure that any new wording is consistent with that.

“We didn’t discuss the detail of any new language. What we agreed was the prime minister’s negotiating team would make contact with the European Commission taskforce, the negotiating team that is negotiating for Europe, including Ireland, with any proposed new text and we would consider it from there,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May spoke earlier on the phone on Wednesday.

Another meeting of diplomats of the 27 member states has been pencilled in for Friday evening, should the UK find an agreement with the DUP on a solution.

If the UK fails to agree a joint position with the European commission by Friday, the member states informed Mr Barnier they would not have time to take it back to their capitals for scrutiny ahead of next week’s critical European council meeting.

In that scenario, the leaders would once again rule that insufficient progress had been made on the opening issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border for talks on trade and a transition period to start.

A failure to move talks on in December would mean that the terms of a transition period could potentially only be discussed after the next European council summit of leaders in March, by which time key businesses in the UK will have had to make decisions over their location and investments in the country.

Emergency summit

It is possible the leaders would call an emergency summit in January or February to agree to move talks on and discuss the terms of a transition period.

But the longer it takes the British government to offer certainty over trading terms after March 2019, firms will make decisions that will cost the British economy.

Mr Varadkar said there was “room to manoeuvre” the deal into the right position before the European council summit next week.

He said: “Having consulted with people in London, [MRS MAY]wants to come back to us with text tonight and tomorrow. And I expect to move forward as well - I want us to move forward if it’s possible next week.”

Mr Barnier’s and Mr Varadkar’s comments came as Conservative and DUP sources sounded downbeat about the prospect of a quick consensus between the government and the party that is in effect propping it up in Westminster.

DUP sources in Belfast were the most negative, suggesting talks could “creep into January”, but Whitehall officials were also very cautious about predicting any breakthrough soon.

An end to the stalemate on the Irish border issue could come at any time if the DUP or Ireland make concessions on the wording of the proposals, which set out plans for some “regulatory alignment” between Dublin and Northern Ireland after leaving the EU.

But the DUP is currently still not satisfied that No 10 is offering enough in the way of guarantees that Northern Ireland will be treated in exactly the same way as the rest of the UK after Brexit.

Members of the House of Commons Brexit committee are due to visit the Irish border and Armagh on Thursday. - Guardian