EU will want Border fix before trade talks, UK is warned
EU officials will demand the UK provides solutions for maintaining an open Border in Ireland before agreeing to talk about trade issues in a no-deal Brexit.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made a timely visit to Dublin yesterday - but he brought a message for London.
In the first clear outline of how the EU will react to a disorderly Brexit, Mr Barnier said that the pressure would be piled back on to the House of Commons.
"We would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement on Ireland and Northern Ireland, citizens' rights and the financial settlement," he said.
That statement is likely to be carefully studied by British Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who are attempting to reach a compromise on a way forward.
Mrs May will travel to Germany and France today to meet with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron ahead of an emergency EU summit in Brussels tomorrow.
It is understood she will make the case for pushing the Brexit deadline back from this Friday until the end of June.
EU leaders are split on the best approach, with European Council president Donald Tusk favouring an extension until March 2020.
Shortly after Mr Barnier departed Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was on the phone to Mrs May.
"The Taoiseach repeated his openness to an extension of the deadline," a brief statement said afterwards.
Mr Varadkar also had talks with the leaders of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta.
All 27 remaining member states must agree on an extension.
Irish Government sources were last night confident that Brexit would be delayed for a second time.
"It won't be this Friday. There'll be disagreements about when it should be - but it won't be this Friday," a source said.
Some EU leaders are wary of further prolonging uncertainty over Brexit.
Others favour only agreeing to a much longer extension so that the EU can then focus on other topics in the coming months.
It is not expected that the discussion in London will result in Mrs May bringing a concrete proposal to Brussels.
But leaders hope she will be able to outline a framework for progress.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who also spoke with Mrs May by phone yesterday, said he needed to be convinced that her country will continue co-operating with the EU if an extension is granted. He said "a positive decision hinges also on assurances from UK on sincere co-operation".
Mr Varadkar said EU leaders would work through the options and reach a compromise.
"There will be different views but I am confident that we will reach agreement," he said.
The Irish Government is pleased with what it sees as a high-level show of solidarity from key EU players in recent days.
Amid continued concerns about what would happen at the Border in a no-deal scenario, Mr Varadkar now believes protecting the EU's single market can be portrayed as a "shared challenge".
In language that matched that of Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron last week, Mr Barnier said the EU "will stand fully behind Ireland".
"You have our full support. The backstop is currently the only solution we have found to maintain the status quo on the island of Ireland," he said.
Mr Barnier said that he hoped the talks in Westminster "will produce a positive outcome".
And in comments that are likely to boost Mr Corbyn's hand, he said: "I've said many times before, we can be more, much more ambitious in our future relationship with the UK.
"The political declaration provides for a range of outcomes including a customs union.
"We are ready to make this cleare‑r if it helps and this work can be done extremely quickly."