Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Irish Border Deal Is Not Close, EU Warns as May Faces Cabinet

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Irish Border Deal Is Not Close, EU Warns as May Faces Cabinet

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Cecil Deputy Political Editor

A DEAL on the Irish border is not close, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned today.

He issued the blunt assessment just hours before Theresa May was due to update the Cabinet on options to break the deadlock over a backstop to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He stressed his mandate was to work towards a deal and tell EU Council president Donald Tusk when one was "within grasp", so Mr Tusk could decide whether to hold a summit to discuss it.

Mr Barnier told Belgian broadcaster RTBF: "For now, we are still negotiating and I am not, as I am speaking to you this morning, able to tell you that we are close to reaching an agreement, since there is still a real point of divergence on the way of guaranteeing peace in Ireland, that there are no borders in Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the single market."

The British Government has per-suaded Brussels and Ireland to consider a UK-wide backstop for the scenario where no other system has yet been found to avoid a hard border.

A key issue now is whether a backstop should be time-limited or permanent and how one could be terminated. Ire-land's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that he was open to a "mechanism" to end such a backstop, rather than a specific date as being demanded by Brexiteers. However he ruled out the UK being able to trigger it unilaterally.

Frantic talks are ongoing to try to narrow the rift so the "divorce" settlement between the UK and the EU can be agreed at a summit later this month, and avoid a growing crisis which could force governments and firms to start implementing no-deal contingency plans. But Mrs May is being warned by Tory and Democratic Unionist MPs not to accept any Brussels proposals that would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK as the country splinters away from the EU next March. …

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