Sunday 17 February 2019

Warning of 'disorderly' Brexit as May's customs vision demolished

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Britain risks a "disorderly" Brexit after failing to offer up any workable solutions for the Irish Border, Michel Barnier has warned.

The EU chief negotiator issued the stark warning after Theresa May's vision for a new customs arrangement was demolished in five rounds of technical negotiations in Brussels.

Sources told the Irish Independent that the Government here may now have no choice but to stall the talks completely in June.

While there is "no panic" on the Irish side, officials believe the next 10 weeks must bring "significant and measurable progress" or the entire Brexit timeline will be derailed.

The ultimate deal between the UK and EU is due to be finalised by October 31 - but an EU summit in June is growing in importance.

Mr Barnier said there is still no agreement on 25pc of Brexit negotiations, meaning there is a "risk of failure".

"I say as the union's negotiator that there are still difficulties, still a risk of failure. On 25pc of the text, we don't have agreement.

"If there is no agreement, there is no orderly withdrawal, there is a disorderly withdrawal and there is no transition," he said.

If the UK crashes out of the EU in March 2019, it may have to remain within the customs union in order to keep the Irish Border open. However, this would prevent Mrs May from striking new free trade deals with non-EU nations.

Asked if the UK could obtain a "single market a la carte" deal, he replied: "No way."

The EU has repeatedly said that Britain will not be able to "cherry pick" and enjoy the benefits of the single market after Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated yesterday that he is prepared to initiate the so-called 'Irish protocol' agreed last December in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

"We have a workable and legally enforceable solution that will allow us to avoid a hard Border on our island. It's the Irish protocol.

"It's written down in black and white and we believe that provides a solution that allows us to avoid a hard Border on our island after the transition period," Mr Varadkar said.

Making the point that the UK can suggest alternatives, the Taoiseach said the ideas put forward so far "haven't really cut the mustard".

"The best way I think to avoid having to use the back stop, having to use the Irish protocol, is for the United Kingdom to stay in the customs union single market, or if not that, something very close to it and perhaps that's something we can negotiate in the months ahead," Mr Varadkar said.

This was echoed by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who said the EU "put down a marker" and the situation cannot be allowed to drag beyond June.

"We need to see progress on the Irish back-stop issue in terms of text by June.

"It doesn't have to be a complete done deal," he said.

"I think finalising the legal text on a withdrawal agreement really needs to be done by October or November at the latest.

"I think if we don't see real progress on that by June I think people will start to ask serious questions as to whether we are moving in the right direction on that particular issue to fulfil the commitments that have been made."

Irish Independent

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