Thursday 23 November 2017

Europe criticism over May's lack of clarity on Border

Theresa May speaks at the Complesso Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy. Picture: Reuters
Theresa May speaks at the Complesso Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy. Picture: Reuters

Sarah Collins

British Prime Minister Theresa May has failed to clarify how she will preserve the Irish peace process and avoid a hard Border after Brexit, the EU said.

In a landmark speech in Florence yesterday, Mrs May attempted to unblock stalled Brexit talks by pledging to remain in the EU for a two-year transition period after 2019, offering guarantees on citizens' rights and promising the UK would settle its debts.

But although her speech was described as "constructive" by Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, and appeared to have placated Boris Johnson, it was also criticised for having very little clarity on the Border issue.

European Parliament lead negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said a hard Border would arise unless Northern Ireland was allowed to remain in the EU's tariff-free customs union, a position that would be unacceptable for Mrs May's coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party.

"I didn't hear yet how the UK government wants to avoid a hard Border or physical checks," he said.

MEP Brian Hayes said on Twitter that Mrs May had offered "nothing of note for Ireland".

UK negotiators will next week use the momentum from the speech to try to ease tensions that have built up over three earlier rounds of talks. However, while Mr Barnier, said the speech "shows a willingness to move forward", it is unclear if it will be enough to break the deadlock over money.

In her speech, Mrs May pledged to "honour commitments" made while an EU member, but did not name a figure.

That EU believes the UK owes it €60bn for infrastructure projects, loan guarantees and pensions.

The financial offer alone is "not sufficient" to move talks on, said Manfred Weber, a German MEP and close ally of chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The issue of money is important, but the everyday life of people is more important. This is why, above all, legal certainty must be created for EU citizens in Great Britain and a hard Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland should be prevented."

Mrs May promised that EU citizens would be "fully" protected under UK law, and that British courts would "take into account" European court judgments.

Both sides had hoped to resolve the three main issues in the divorce deal - money, citizens and Ireland - by October, and begin talking about a future trade deal.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron underlined the list of priorities for the EU last night.

"Before we move forward, we want to clarify matters concerning the settlement of European citizens, the financial terms of exit and the question of Ireland," Mr Macron said. "If these three points are not clarified, we will not be able to advance on the rest."

Irish Independent

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