Saturday 15 December 2018

EU throws down gauntlet with eight-week deadline on Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA
British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA

Cormac McQuinn and Shona Murray

Ireland and the other remaining EU states are to throw down the gauntlet to the British government giving it eight weeks to improve its Brexit offer if it wants to move on to the next phase of Brexit talks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other European leaders are today expected to heap pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May by formally deciding insufficient progress has been made in negotiations on Ireland, citizens' rights and the so-called Brexit divorce bill the UK will have to pay.

Mrs May desperately wants to move on to talks on trade and the UK's future relationship with the EU. However, despite an olive branch on citizens' rights, the European Council meeting in December is set to become the new deadline for the EU's decision on whether or not this can happen.

Mrs May addressed other EU leaders over dinner in Brussels last night. The remaining 27 member states are to meet this morning in her absence.

Elsewhere, her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, continued to insist Britain will do "very well" after Brexit and stressed that the UK must be prepared to walk away from the talks if they aren't going well.

Mrs May used a Facebook post to assure EU nationals living in Britain for more than five years that they will offered a hassle-free way to swap permanent residency for a new settled status.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there has been some "encouraging" progress in the Brexit talks but sufficient progress hasn't been made to move on. Last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he still believes the negotiations can progress on enough for the remaining 27 EU member states to allow them to enter the next stage in December.

He said he hopes this will "focus minds" but warned that further concessions will be required from the UK.

In relation to Irish issues he said that it's not enough for the British government to say it doesn't want a hard Border, it has to explain how it is going to avoid it in more detail.

Mr Varadkar welcomed what he called "the right language" from London about how they envision the future relationship with the EU and the need to avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

But he also said that there is a conflict in the UK's position that they wanted the closest possible relationship with Europe and Ireland.

"We already have the closest possible relationship, it's called the European Union," he said.

"I think we will require some further concessions from the UK government, which will be met with greater understanding on the European side."

He did welcome the UK government's latest move on citizens' rights.

Mr Varadkar said he disagreed with remarks made by European Commissioner Phil Hogan that the cliff edge of a hard Brexit is so close "we can see the drop almost in front of us". The Taoiseach said: "I think we have a way to go yet."

"Brexit doesn't happen until April 2019, so we're quite far back from the cliff edge".

However, he warned that its up to all European leaders to "ensure that we don't sleep walk towards that cliff and that substantially more progress is made in the next couple of months".

Earlier Mr Varadkar attended the European People's Party (EPP) summit alongside leaders such as Ms Merkel and the new Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

He also went to a meeting of prime ministers from Nordic and Baltic states.

Mr Varadkar said the countries have "very similar" values and economies and he's keen to build new alliances in Europe.

"That's going to be particularly important when we lose our biggest traditional ally, Britain," he said.

He said the leaders he met: "very much understand our issues and they have our back".

Mr Varadkar said one point he made that surprises some in the EU is that it's likely most people in Northern Ireland will be Irish and European citizens after Brexit.

He said: "Even people from a unionist background will want to become Irish and European citizens at the very least for the convenience."

Irish Independent

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