Sunday 9 December 2018

More proposals due on Border - but not for weeks

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fresh proposals on how to maintain an open Border on the island of Ireland after Brexit will not be tabled for the UK until some time next month.

As the clock ticks down towards the October deadline for a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU, British Prime Minister Theresa May is still some distance from offering a working solution.

Irish officials have grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress, which now means Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must allow another summit of EU leaders to pass without any major breakthrough.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley met with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels yesterday.

However, she said afterwards that it would be "next month" before there are any new developments.

Ms Bradley said it would be a matter for "the whole cabinet" - something which is likely to cause further alarm in Dublin.

Ministers here have had to repeatedly fend off questions about dismissive comments on the importance of the Irish Border from ministers, such as Boris Johnson and David Davis.

They have been briefed to say that Ireland listens to Mrs May when it wants to know the UK's position.

"The likelihood of her cabinet reaching a consensus is hard to see at this stage. She must stand up to them," an Irish official said last night.

More than two years after the British public voted to leave the EU, there is now little over three months to find a way of preventing a hard Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Ms Bradley said she was in Brussels to explain "the sensitivities" of the issue to Mr Barnier.

"We're working across cabinet on all matters to make sure that we can actually resolve the Irish Border and no border down the Irish Sea through the overall UK relationship.

"That's what we all want to achieve. But obviously we need to put into legal text those matters that were agreed in the joint report and that's what we're working on," Ms Bradley said.

Downing Street has insisted that Mrs May's preferred solution to the Brexit Irish Border impasse remains on the table, despite being dismissed by a senior member of her cabinet yesterday as "bureaucratic, unwieldy and impractical".

Andrea Leadsom, the eurosceptic leader of the Commons, said that the "customs partnership" model might lead to more "red tape" for businesses.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said yesterday that Ireland is "preparing for all outcomes" because "we'd be very foolish not to".

It is understood that planning for a 'no deal' situation is likely to be ramped up after this week's EU summit on Thursday and Friday.

Mr Varadkar will represent Ireland at the meeting. He will ask EU colleagues to help intensify the negotiations over the summer months.

Irish Independent

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