Friday 20 April 2018

UK is accused of 'magical thinking' as it offers solution but without detail

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee
European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee

Shona Murray

Britain has been accused of "magical thinking" for insisting it can employ technical solutions to avoid a hard customs Border in the North after Brexit.

UK officials have told the Irish Government they'll come up with a plan to allow them to sign trade deals outside the EU's customs union, without the need for physical customs controls between the UK and the Irish State.

But they have provided no clear details on how this would work, adding to a major impasse that could see the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

"The British say they want to explore technical solutions but let's not kid ourselves", a source close to the talks told the Irish Independent - adding that this was "magical thinking".

Theresa May's government this week reaffirmed that the UK was leaving the EU's single market and customs union.

Tensions increased yesterday when the EU's lead Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said: "A UK decision to leave the single market and leave the customs union would make Border checks unavoidable."

The failure to agree on the transition period, and the impenetrable divisions with the British cabinet, meant Britain crashing out of Europe without a deal was now "on the range of possible outcome", the source said.

Ms May's Brexit war cabinet is reconvening in Checkers - the prime minister's country residence - on February 21 to try again to agree on a plan for a future relationship with the EU.

Amid conflict in her party at home, the British prime minister is now under further pressure to tell Ireland what her government's proposals are to solve the Border issue.

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said the number of proposals being taken off the table seemed to make finding a solution "more and more difficult".

Ms McEntee told the BBC: "It seems more and more difficult the more proposals or options you take off the table. However, we are yet to see any proposals in its absence.

"So we need the UK government, we need Theresa May and her team, to start looking at, and to start I suppose letting us know what the proposals are coming from their side, and what their options are.

"They have always been very clear and before the agreements in Christmas, or on December 15, they made it very clear that they felt they would not need this backstop position or this backslide, that they would be able to work with the EU to create this close relationship.

"So what we need to see now is how is that going to happen," she added.

The Irish Government is eager to get December's deal into legal text before March.

Each government department is also increasing its resources and retraining staff in order to get Brexit-ready and prepare for the worst-case scenario.

But Labour leader Brendan Howlin has accused the Government of having "no strategy". He said the comments from Mr Barnier undermined the statements made by the Taoiseach in the wake of the December deal.

"The Irish Government has not been able to tell us what it wants in phase two of the Brexit negotiations," said the former minister.

Irish Independent

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