Brussels talks mark beginning of crucial fortnight on Brexit

Irish officials expect new British proposals on Border this week

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been increasing pressure on London to propose more concrete solutions in time for the summit. Photograph: EPA/BALAZS MOHAI

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been increasing pressure on London to propose more concrete solutions in time for the summit. Photograph: EPA/BALAZS MOHAI

 

Today begins a critical fortnight in the Brexit negotiations, with Irish officials expecting to receive long-awaited British proposals on the Border in the coming days. Talks are scheduled between the British and EU sides every day this week.

The Government wants to see significant progress at the technical talks this week in an effort to break the stalemate between the EU and UK over the future of the Border, and high-ranking sources confirmed that they expected to see proposals from the British this week.

Dublin is pressing the British to provide more detailed alternative solutions and proposals on a legally-operable text on the default “backstop” option that would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market and customs union should no other plan be agreed to maintain an invisible border.

The timetable for the EU-UK talks in Brussels lists a session on Wednesday on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sources in Brussels say that it is expected to be a short meeting, dealing with a number of technical issues, although if the UK brings new proposals they will be discussed.

Three more days of talks follow this week on the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

The Government has cast the coming two weeks as crucial in the negotiations if a solution to the Border issue is to be approved by EU leaders at a European Council summit at the end of this month.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been increasing pressure on London to propose more concrete solutions in time for the summit.

Difficult summer

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, the Government’s lead Brexit negotiator, has warned of a difficult summer of negotiations if no progress is made by this summit, pushing negotiations to the October deadline set to allow the UK and EU parliaments time to approve any final withdrawal deal by the UK’s departure next March.

“Our position remains that significantly more progress is needed ahead of the June European Council, ” said a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“Michel Barnier has made this very clear, including during his recent visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland. At this stage in the process the UK must engage in a more detailed way on the draft text of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, including the backstop.”

Concerns about the lack of progress in negotiations were voiced by Germany’s top Brexit diplomat Peter Ptassek, who played down expectations about agreement being reached by the council on June 28th-29th.

“Not many are expecting very much now,” he tweeted. “If this is so, October would then have to solve all problems [withdrawal, Northern Ireland, governance, future] in one go. Odds still unclear.”

Irish officials viewed Mr Ptassek’s remarks as another attempt to increase the pressure on the British to propose solutions in what is viewed as a make-or-break fortnight to prepare for the June summit as UK media reports suggest the British is preparing “Doomsday” contingency plans for no deal.

Backstop

An influential London think tank has said in a new report that British prime minister Theresa May should propose her own version of the backstop for the Border before the summit.

“The UK has made it clear that the EU version of the backstop is unacceptable. But the government has not, so far, put forward draft language of its own,” says the Institute for Government report.

“It needs to – and it needs to make clear that it is not trying to shirk the commitments it entered into in December. With no other workable proposition yet identified, let alone agreed, it needs to table something that could work, meets those commitments and is politically acceptable.”