Government seeks firm British guarantee on Border
Ireland insists same regulations must apply North and South in final Brexit deal
UK prime minister Theresa May: set to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA
The Government wants Britain to declare that it attaches the same importance to avoiding a hard Border, even if it exits the EU without a deal, as it does to its red-line issues on leaving the single market and customs union.
Talks on an agreement to avoid a hard Border continued between British and EU officials last night ahead of a number of crucial meetings today.
Ireland is also seeking clarification on the transition phase, protections for the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area, as well as ensuring there is no regulatory divergence between North and South in the final Brexit deal.
Britain favours a two-year transition deal with no effective change on current arrangements, but sources said other European countries would want some restrictions, such as on financial services, to show there are consequences to leaving the EU.
She will table the final British offer on the three areas – the divorce settlement, citizens’ rights and Irish specific issues – in which “sufficient progress” will need to be made in order to proceed to the next phase of talks.
The Irish Cabinet will meet this morning for an update on the Brexit talks. The British cabinet is also expected to meet.
Government sources were pessimistic of an outcome being reached today, with one senior figure putting the chances of a deal at “less than 50 per cent”.
However, it is being claimed a deal could still be reached by the time of the European Council meeting on December 14th and 15th, when EU leaders will make the final call on whether to allow talks proceed to the second phase, focusing on a post-Brexit transition period and future trading relationship.
Ireland is sticking to its position that there should be no “regulatory divergence” between the North and the Republic, and this is understood to be the main point of negotiation.
Anything less than a commitment to no regulatory divergence, it is argued, will mean the return of a hard Border.
Sources said the exact wording of the deal was not as important as what it would actually contain. This is a commitment to the same regulations applying across the island of Ireland even in a potential “no-deal” Brexit, which means the Border would not be tied up in contentious phase two talks.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly pointed out Britain has already ruled out membership of the single market and customs union. Sources said another parameter must be that there should be no hard Border, even if Britain left the EU without a deal.
Any Border arrangement would be published at the European Council meeting later this month.
The agreement being worked on is said to be only a few pages long and will focus on principles rather than specific details. It is widely accepted details can only be worked out in the talks on the future EU-UK trade deal.