Government gives Theresa May two weeks to solve Border issue

Tánaiste says EU Brexit group must receive written plans in advance of crunch summit

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: ‘If there is no progress on the backstop, we are in for an uncertain summer.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: ‘If there is no progress on the backstop, we are in for an uncertain summer.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

British prime minister Theresa May has two weeks to table written proposals on how to solve the Irish Border issue in order to avoid a Brexit crisis at a crucial EU summit later this month, the Government has said.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney says the European Union taskforce, led by Michel Barnier, must receive detailed proposals in writing from the British government within a fortnight.

This would allow time to debate and discuss the proposals ahead of the European Council meeting on June 28th and 29th. The Government has said substantial progress on the Border, including the so-called “backstop”, must be made by this summit.

“In the next two weeks, we need to see written proposals,” Mr Coveney told The Irish Times. “It needs to happen two weeks from the summit.”

Mr Coveney’s warning reflects increasing exasperation in Dublin and Brussels that no firm proposals have emerged from London, with just weeks until the summit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mr Coveney and other senior Ministers such as Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe have repeatedly told their UK counterparts that such proposals are needed soon.

“There’s a new idea or solution being mooted every week,” said a senior Government source, adding that Dublin was only “interested in proposals that are written down”.

“On paper like. Or on a screen. We are at legal text stage. We need legal texts to draft and debate.”

‘Buffer zone’

A leaked proposal on Friday from UK Brexit secretary David Davis – that would give Northern Ireland joint UK and EU status so it could trade freely with both, as well as a “buffer zone” to eliminate the need for border checkpoints with Ireland – was dismissed by Government figures.

The latest proposals were also dismissed by the Democratic Unionist Party which urged its Conservative partners in the UK government to stop coming up with “half-cooked ideas” on how to deal with the Border question.

The party’s East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said on Friday that none of the mooted proposals had been discussed with his party. He described them as “at best contradictory”.

On the buffer zone, one Government source in Dublin said it only moved a potential physical border, rather than ensuring that no physical border would be in place after Brexit.

The UK and EU are due to agree a withdrawal agreement, including the Irish backstop, by October, but the Government has warned this will be thrown into doubt unless substantial progress is made this month.

The backstop – which would ensure no divergence in customs and trade rules between the Republic and Northern Ireland without agreed solutions on how to avoid a hard border – was agreed in principle in December, although the UK has rejected the EU’s legal interpretation of it.

“If there is no progress on the backstop, we are in for an uncertain summer,” Mr Coveney said. “At this point we need written proposals on the Irish backstop consistent with what was agreed. We await written proposals from the British side.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin questioned the value of any further discussions until Ms May secured the support of the House of Commons for a defined negotiating position. Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said the backstop was still required and progress must be made at the June summit.