UK must solve the Border barrier – Tusk
Theresa May suffers Brexit vote defeat
The European Union yesterday issued a fresh warning to the UK that a transitional deal after Brexit will not be secured unless the problem of the Irish Border is resolved.
European Council President Donald Tusk told MEPs the UK had created the issue as a result of the Brexit vote and had a duty to find a solution.
His comments came as UK Prime Minister Theresa May faced a humiliation in the House of Lords, with peers voting for the UK to remain in a customs union after leaving the EU, which they claim could help address the issues around the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Mrs May hopes to secure a transitional deal which would see the UK continue to follow EU rules and trade with the bloc on similar terms until the end of 2020, when a comprehensive deal on a new partnership could take over.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Tusk said he welcomed the progress that had been made in the Brexit talks.
"We want to use the positive momentum in these negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues, such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland," he said.
In a message that indicated Britain could not simply leave it to Ireland and the EU to decide what the customs arrangements at the Border should be - as some Brexiteers have suggested - Mr Tusk said: "The UK's decision on Brexit has caused the problem and the UK will have to help solve it.
"Without a solution, there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition.
"Leaders will assess the negotiations in June. In parallel we will start our first talks about the future EU-UK relationship."
Senior officials were meeting in Brussels yesterday to hold preliminary discussions about the future relationship for the first time.
In the House of Lords, peers inflicted a crushing defeat on Mrs May in a bid to keep the UK in a customs union with the European Union.
Remain-backing lords succeeded in their bid to amend the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to force ministers to set out the steps taken during negotiations with Brussels to enable the UK to stay in a customs union with the bloc.
Peers backed the amendment by 348 votes to 225 with 24 Conservatives, including former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, rebelling against the Government.
But ministers dismissed the defeat as "meaningless" and said the amendment would not change their plans.
Downing Street maintained its opposition to a customs union, which would restrict the UK's ability to strike trade deals after Brexit.
Mrs May's spokesman said she had "been very clear that the British people voted to leave the EU and expect us to be able to sign trade deals around the world, operating our own independent trade policy".
"As the PM has set out, that means we are leaving the customs union," the spokesman said.
The government can try to overturn the defeats inflicted in the Lords when the bill returns to the Commons later this year.
The latest Brexit skirmishes come as a report by think tank Global Future - which wants a Britain that "reaches out to the world" - claimed the Prime Minister's hoped-for bespoke deal would cost the UK the equivalent of £615m (€705m) a week in 2018 prices.
The think tank said each of the four possible Brexit options - European Economic Area membership, a Canadian-style free-trade deal, falling back to World Trade Organisation terms, or the comprehensive partnership sought by the prime minister - would leave the UK poorer than it otherwise would have been.