Growing signs of EU impatience with Britain over Brexit delays

Taoiseach agrees with Barnier that ‘time has come for Britain to make a choice’

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says that the time has come for Britain to make a choice on what sort of relationship it wants with the bloc after Brexit. Video: Reuters


The time has come for the UK to say clearly what type of trading and customs relationship it wants with the EU, the Government believes, amid continuing concern in Dublin over the British government’s position.

Yesterday the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier visited London and said the UK now had to make a decision about the nature of its future trading relationship, warning that leaving the EU’s customs union meant some form of border controls.

“The only thing I can say – without the customs union, outside the single market – barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice,” Mr Barnier said.

Government sources in Dublin said it was essential that the British government lay out “in black and white” what post-Brexit arrangement it was seeking with the EU.

It was clear where the EU and Ireland stood, the sources said, adding the only missing part was Britain signalling its position.

The sources said the Government could not be distracted by internal British politics as it was unclear where it was headed.

There is growing apprehension in Dublin that the guarantees given by the British government will be difficult to put into concrete legal form

“We have to press on, we have a phase-one agreement that we need to focus on and we have to ensure the agreement we received in December is followed through.”

EU and British officials are working to translate December’s political agreement – which includes guarantees from the British government that there would be no return to a hard border in Ireland – into a legal text in advance of the next round of negotiations, likely to begin after the March summit of EU leaders.

However, there is growing apprehension in Dublin that the guarantees given by the British government will be difficult to put into concrete legal form as it may conflict with other political commitments made by the British.

A spokesman for Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he and the Taoiseach agreed with the comments by Mr Barnier on the need for Britain to make a choice.

Speaking on Monday morning, Mr Varadkar said he is “not entirely clear what exactly is being sought in terms of the UK’s relationship with the customs union and the UK’s relationship with the single market”.

Specific commitments

He said: “What we have in the agreement made in December are some very specific commitments that we will avoid a hard border, any new barriers to trade and the movement of people between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland and we can avoid that in one of three ways.

“Either through the new relationship between the UK and the EU, through bespoke plans that the UK are mandated to come up with, or thirdly a unique arrangement with Northern Ireland in which there will be a full and ongoing regulatory alignment.”

Divisions in the Conservative Party over the type of Brexit the British government should pursue continue to dog prime minister Theresa May, however.

Downing Street on Monday sought to defuse a row within the Conservative Party about the customs union, stating that Britain would definitely be leaving it. Brexit secretary David Davis said, however, that a new customs arrangement should be part of a future free-trade agreement with the EU.

Hard-line Brexiteer MPs are pushing Ms May to leave the customs union in order that the UK can negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world, though some members of her cabinet are wary of the impact of such a move on the British economy.