Tuesday 22 May 2018

EU report warns of 'zero progress' on Border question

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster meets with the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at the EC headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Yves Herman
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster meets with the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at the EC headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Yves Herman

Shona Murray

Theresa May has been accused of "double cherry-picking" on Brexit in a leaked report from the European Council that warned of "zero progress" on the Border question.

Brussels' analysis called the British prime minister's speech last week as "a change in tone, but not in substance".

It noted there was "no solution" when it came to ideas for an alternative to the UK or Northern Ireland staying in the customs union.

It noted "mutually contradictory UK objectives" of no single market or customs union, no hard Border, and yet no border in the Irish Sea. "Like with PM May's previous speeches, she addressed more her domestic audience, trying to bridge the gaps between the two poles of the debate on Brexit in the UK," the paper said.

"While the speech was long on aspirations, it was short on workable solutions that would respect the EU27 principles."

And Mrs May's latest Brexit proposals were dealt yet another blow by Stefaan de Rynck, the most senior adviser to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

He said all 27 EU member states were more concerned with protecting the rules of the single market than allowing the UK partial access as part of Mrs May's "broad and deep" trading arrangement.

He described the "unity" of the remaining states and said they "are more concerned with maintaining the integrity of the EU single market than any loss of access to British markets".

Speaking to a British audience at the London School of Economics, Mr de Rynck rebuffed claims by arch-Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg that the UK could decide that it simply won't build a Border in Ireland, and that it would be the EU that would impose one. "Who is asking for a Border? Brexit is asking for a Border," he said.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk is due to meeting the Taoiseach in Dublin tomorrow. Mr Tusk is again expected to reiterate the need for continued solidarity with Ireland, and call for the UK to publish plans for the Northern Ireland Border ahead of the crucial EU summit on March 22.

It comes after the DUP reiterated its position that Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

DUP leader Arlene Foster met with Mr Barnier in Brussels, where she said the publication of the EU's draft Withdrawal Agreement was not a "faithful or fair translation" of what was agreed in December.

She said the draft legal text "over-reached" on the joint report agreed by the UK and the EU, but urged the EU to move on with trade talks.

"The fundamental problem as it currently stands is that it challenges the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

"It is important that the text accurately and fully reflects December's joint report," Ms Foster said.

Irish Independent

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