Brexit Border ‘backstop’: Tusk challenges UK to come up with solutions

EU leaders to assess in June ‘if the Irish question has been resolved’

EU summit: Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, with Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has put down a clear challenge to the UK to come up with solutions to the Irish Border "backstop" issue within months.

He urged an acceleration of the talks process and told journalists at the end of the EU summit in Brussels that "leaders will assess in June if the Irish question has been resolved, and how to go about a common declaration on our future."

It was a reference also to a framework political agreement on the future trading relationship between the European Union and United Kingdom.

"We want to use the positive momentum in the negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In parallel we will start our first talks about the future EU-UK relationship," Mr Tusk said.


Both the withdrawal agreement and the framework need to be approved in final legal form by October in order to make time for ratification before Brexit. The guidelines for the future-relationship talks were approved by the 27 heads of government in 30 seconds on Friday.

On Monday Irish diplomats will join the European Commission Brexit taskforce and UK negotiators for the first of another round of technical discussions about Irish issues. Eight days of talks on Ireland are scheduled to be held in Brussels over the next month.

It was a busy summit that, as Mr Tusk put it, saw EU leaders face up “to a number of specific global economic and political risks, including those related to the actions” of Presidents Trump, Putin and Erdogan, and to Brexit negotiations.

Leaders condemned trade measures threatened by the United States, backed the United Kingdom's accusing finger pointed at Russia over the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, and denounced Turkish "illegal" actions in the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and Syria. They expressed their "full solidarity with Cyprus and Greece" ahead of what will prove a difficult summit with Turkey in Bulgaria on Monday.

EU enlargement will definitely not be on the agenda, journalists were told.

Skripal poisoning

Mr Tusk said of Salisbury that he was “personally especially pleased that, despite the tough Brexit negotiations, the European Union has demonstrated unanimous and unequivocal unity with the UK in the face of this attack”.

Leaders agreed to call the EU ambassador to Moscow back to Brussels for consultations, and up to 10 member states, including Ireland, pledged that they would examine national measures, including the expulsion of diplomats in retaliation. They agreed it was “highly likely” that Russia was involved.

The 19 euro-zone leaders, at their subsummit, reflected agreement on upgrading the union’s bailout arm, the European Stability Mechanism, which could monitor country debt and analyse long-term economic growth.

But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was adamant, with the support of several other states, that it should remain intergovernmental and not be incorporated into the ambit of the commission.

Disagreement remains over the introduction of fiscal measures that could help stem economic shocks across the euro zone.

The controversial new secretary general of the European Commission, Martyn Selmayr, whose appointment has caused a storm of criticism, will, however, take away some comfort from the summit: lavish praise from President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and his boss, the commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times