Thursday 15 November 2018

Fears over lack of Brexit deal on border amid claim that some in Europe want issue postponed

Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Brexit talks: British PM Theresa May with European Council President Donald Tusk Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

OPPOSITION politicians have expressed serious concern at the lack of a deal on avoiding a post-Brexit hard border in Ireland ahead of this week's European Summit.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin raised fears over what he said were suggestions in Europe that reaching an agreement on the issue should be postponed.

And Fianna Fáil's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers has said the true deadline for an agreement now seems to be November and warned that Ireland could be in a "very lonely" position if the issue gets "kicked down the road".

The concerns come after the failure over the weekend by EU and UK negotiators to reach a deal on the so-called backstop to avoid a hard border even if Britain crashes out of Europe without an overall withdrawal agreement.

The EU has shot down a British proposal to put a time limit on the backstop.

There is now little prospect of a deal being reached before EU leaders meet in Brussels tomorrow as had previously been hoped.

Mr Howlin said he had feared the border would become the "fulcrum issue" after the target date for reaching an agreement was previously put back from June to October.

He said he had been speaking to colleagues in the Party of European Socialists and - while solidarity remains - that "for the first time that there is actually suggestions being made that the Irish backstop issue should be postponed."

He said: "I think that is very dangerous for us and it’s something that we have to resist."

Mr Howlin said he doesn't know where suggestions that a postponement could happen is coming from, but said it's the first time he's been told about such a prospect from social democratic colleagues on the Continent.

Lisa Chambers TD
Lisa Chambers TD

Ms Chambers it's "quite worrying that we’re at this late stage now where the Irish issue remains the unresolved issue.

“We still are no closer to having a legally binding backstop that will ensure no hard border on this island.”

She noted European Council president Donald Tusk’s comments that a no-deal Brexit was “more likely than ever before” but said there is still goodwill left on both sides and they want a deal.

“But I think it’s quite clear to everybody involved that time is fast running out,” she added.

Asked about Mr Howlin’s remarks on suggestions there are some in Europe who want to postpone the border issue, she said there are "lots of rumours flying around".

She said it's "no secret" that the UK want it resolved through a future trading arrangement.

But she said the position of the Fine Gael-led minority government, of Fianna Fáil, and the EU's negotiating team lead by Michel Barnier is that the border in Ireland has to be part of the withdrawal treaty.

Ms Chambers added: "Our position on it remains unchanged.

"It is... the view of the Fianna Fáil party that if we allow that issue to get kicked down the road, if it’s not resolved now we could find ourselves in a very lonely situation if that’s left to a further point."

She said: “In fairness to the EU negotiating team. They really haven’t moved from their position that the four freedoms [of the EU Single Market] are indivisible and that the Irish border issue must be resolved in the withdrawal treaty.” 

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