Thursday 17 October 2019

Border issue most likely to scupper Brexit deal, warns UK think-tank

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Colm Kelpie and Shona Murray

The Border issue is much more likely to scupper a deal at December's key Brexit summit of EU leaders than money or citizens' rights, the head of a UK-headquartered think-tank has said.

However, Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform, which Michel Barnier addressed earlier this week, said he believes a deal can be done - if Ireland agrees to language that signals there would be no regulatory divergence between the North and the Republic.

France and Germany are among the countries keen to move on to the next phase of the talks dealing with the future relationship, Mr Grant said.

If Ireland is the only obstacle, the Government will be "politely" encouraged to accept some form of compromise, he added, referring to recent meetings he has had in Brussels with both the UK and EU sides.

"Then the really difficult decisions on the Border and Ireland get postponed for phase two," Mr Grant told the Irish Independent.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday that it would be seen in the coming days whether sufficient progress had been made on the three key issues - citizens' rights, the financial settlement and Ireland - to be able to move on to the trade talks.

There has been speculation there may be support in Britain for the UK government to offer more money as part of the divorce bill, signalling the possibility of a deal in that once-controversial area.

The sides also appear to believe they are quite close on agreeing the scope of rights for expat citizens in Britain and on the continent.

That leaves the Border question, which remains a potential stumbling block. The differences of opinion between Ireland and the UK remain marked.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told an Oireachtas Committee yesterday that he is hopeful a deal can be reached next month, but added it is by no means "pre-determined".

The Government has said it wants to ensure the UK is committed to not having regulatory divergence between the North and the Republic.

"On money, everybody in Brussels can see how a deal can be done," Mr Grant added.

"There may be problems, but the British have to cough up and the EU has to be seen to give them something in return, in terms of some political agreement on transition arrangements and talks on the future trade arrangements.

"It is not beyond the wit of man to get the two sides to come together on the money. The officials on both sides think they know how to do it.

"Ireland is much more difficult. If the Irish take a maximalist view on what they want to get the British to sign up to, there won't be a deal at all.

"If the Irish are prepared to accept vague assurances that the British agree that the North will have some regulatory convergence with the south, which I think the British can sign up to, then we can declare a deal in December."

Meanwhile, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee said the French government would give Ireland its "full support" during testy talks over the Border.

Ms McEntee was speaking after she met France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau in Paris yesterday.

Irish Independent

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