- REUTERS/Hannah McKay
- Theresa May faces a race against time to prevent Brexit talks from being delayed until 2018.
- EU tells Britain it must come up with a solution to the Irish border in 48 hours.
- May to hold talks with Irish government and DUP in an attempt to achieve “sufficient progress.”
LONDON – Michel Barnier has informed EU member states that Britain has just 48 hours to agree on a potential deal on the first phase of Brexit talks for talks to move onto trade and transition before 2018.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has told European ambassadors that the UK government is trying to come up with a proposal on the Irish border that will satisfy both the DUP and the Irish government, the Guardian reports.
A last-minute meeting between representatives of the EU27 has been scheduled for Friday in case Theresa May is able to get both the DUP and Irish government on side with her plans.
Both parties have said that the prime minister must make key changes to what she is proposing on the Irish border before they can give their approval to a deal on the first phase of negotiations.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that he expects May to offer him a new deal on the Irish border today.
“Having consulted with people in London, [May] wants to come back to us with text tonight and tomorrow. And I expect to move forward as well – I want us to move forward if it’s possible next week,” he said.
If Britain is unable to produce a potential agreement by Friday, then the EU will rule that “insufficient progress” has been made on the issues of citizens’ rights, Britain’s financial settlement, and the Irish border.
This would mean talks on future trade arrangements and any transition deal could not begin until 2018, something the UK government is determined to avoid given the increased uncertainty it would mean for British business.
A CBI survey conducted in last month found that 60% of firms based in Britain will trigger Brexit contingency plans in March if a transition deal isn’t agreed. These plans would include moving staff abroad and slowing recruitment.
The EU has hinted that it might be prepared to hold an emergency summit in January or February of next year in order to speed up negotiations. However, this is not a chance the British side will want to take.
The Irish border issue turned from a headache into a crisis for May this past week after DUP leader Arlene Foster blocked the UK government’s proposal for “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the EU after Brexit.
In practice, this would have major implications for Northern Ireland, as it would require it to stay as close as possible to EU rules in order to maintain seamless, free movement of goods and people across the border.
The DUP is adamant that it will not accept any deal that ties Northern Ireland to EU regulations and subsequently creates new trade barriers between Belfast and the rest of the UK.
The Republic insists that keeping the UK in the single market and customs union is the best way to avoid the return of a hard border. However, the UK government has pledged to remove Britain from both organisations.