Sunday 25 February 2018

Britain is still lacking an imaginative plan to avoid hard Border, warns EU

Theresa May leaves the European leaders’ summit Picture: AFP
Theresa May leaves the European leaders’ summit Picture: AFP
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Europe has told Britain that it must come up with "flexible and imaginative solutions" to avoid a post-Brexit hard Border in Ireland.

The demand is among the conclusions reached by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the other leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states at the end of a crunch meeting in Brussels.

They have agreed that not enough progress has been made on Irish issues, citizens' rights and the divorce bill Britain will have to pay.

Brexit negotiations will not move on to phase two - trade and the UK's future EU relationship - until later this year.

Despite the failure for talks to progress further, British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "ambitious and positive" about the negotiations while conceding: "I know we still have some way to go".

In relation to Ireland, she spoke of the "vital" need to protect the peace process. Both sides agree that the common travel area must continue, and that "there cannot be any physical infrastructure at the Border".

The prime minister also said Northern Ireland's "unique circumstances demanded specific solutions".

The Taoiseach welcomed the remarks, but also said Mrs May must explain what she meant.

"Whether you use the term specific or unique, I'm happy to use either term. We will need to get to the point though of talking about what that actually means," he said.

Mr Varadkar was also pleased with Mrs May's comments on the need to avoid physical infrastructure on the Border, but said: "We need to get down now to the detail of how that can be realised."

He was asked whether it would be helpful for Ireland if the EU allowed more flexibility in the negotiations between now and the new December deadline for progress, given the weakness of Mrs May's position in her own party at home.

Mr Varadkar said he "has no crystal ball" when asked if progress is more likely by December, after the European Council's two days of meetings this week. But he insisted he remained "confident" sufficient progress can be made in the next eight weeks.

European Council president Donald Tusk denied there was deadlock in the Brexit talks, saying that any such reports are exaggerated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted the future trade talks would "undeniably" be more complicated than the first round of negotiations.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU's assumption was not that there would be a "no-deal scenario". He added: "I hate the no-deal scenario... I want to have a fair deal with Britain."

The European Council decided that the remaining member states would begin internal preparations for chief negotiator Michel Barnier's mandate ahead of the next phase of talks.

Meanwhile, it set out its reasons why not enough progress has been made to move on to the trade negotiations and what Britain can do about it.

The council said progress had been made in relation to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and maintaining the common travel area.

Its conclusions state that the UK is expected to "present and commit to flexible and imaginative solutions called for by the unique situation of Ireland".

That includes suggestions for how to avoid a hard Border.

The council also welcomed progress on citizens' rights but this needs to be built on to provide the "necessary legal certainty and guarantees" for citizens. It noted the UK has yet to make a "firm and concrete commitment" on how it will settle its financial obligations.

Irish Independent

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