Donald Tusk gives Ireland crucial backing on border

European Council president Donald Tusk has handed Leo Varadkar a crucial veto in the Brexit negotiations as tense talks with the UK this weekend go down to the wire. 

If any proposal on the contentious issue of the border for Ireland is unacceptable, it would also be for the EU as a whole, declared Mr Tusk after a meeting in Dublin with the Taoiseach.

The statement by Mr Tusk effectively means Ireland will now have the final say on whether the UK can progress to the phase two of the Brexit negotiations. This will be decided in the coming days.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Taoiseach at government buildings last night, Mr Tusk sent out a strong message to London ahead of Monday’s deadline to find a solution on the North: “Let me say very clearly: If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU. I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand. This is why the key to the UK’s future lies, in some ways, in Dublin, at least as long as Brexit negotiations continue,” he said.

Resolving concerns about the border with the North, citizenship rights and the UK’s EU exit bill are the three issues where “sufficient progress” must be agreed before moving to phase two of talks.

The Cabinet will meet on Monday and discuss the talks with Mr Tusk and updates over the weekend, as all sides push for a deal.

Mr Tusk has told UK prime minister Theresa May she has until Monday to come up with solutions to all three issues, ahead of EU leaders meeting on December 14 in Brussels. However, Ireland’s demands for a frictionless border are the major sticking point.

Mr Varadkar yesterday reiterated that the best solution to minimise complications for the border would be for Britain to remain in the customs union and single market. However, as this has been ruled out, the Irish Government wants a solid guarantee that there will be no hard border.

“If the British government continues to rule out that option, it must offer credible, concrete and workable solutions that guarantee there will be no hard border, whatever the outcome in the negotiations, and whatever the future relationship between the EU and the UK,” Mr Varadkar told a packed press conference.

Negotiations over the next few days would be crucial, he said, but ultimately Ireland wanted to see “relations on this island continue to develop peacefully and respectfully”.

The Taoiseach then said the EU27 “cannot declare sufficient progress without firm and acceptable commitments on the border”.

Mr Tusk agreed and went further, effectively confirming the Taoiseach now holds a veto on whether or not to allow the UK move Brexit talks onto phase two, on its future trading relationship with the bloc. He also confirmed that, after Ms May meets European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker on Monday, that any proposals she offers will be run by Dublin.

“Before proposing guidelines on transition and future relations to the leaders, I will consult the Taoiseach if the UK offer is sufficient for the Irish Government,” he said.

However, the use of a veto or a stop on the UK progressing in the talks is a high-risk gamble, with Brexiteers predicting there could be no Brexit deal with the EU. Such a scenario would see no future trade agreement and would also result in a hard border.

The show of unity with Ireland against the UK also comes as Unionists threaten to remove support for Ms May’s Tory government if Irish demands are met. However, Mr Varadkar and Mr Tusk were optimistic that a deal can be done with Ms May to allow Brexit negotiations smoothly continue. Contact between the EU’s Brexit taskforce and Downing Street will continue over the weekend.

Officials in Iveagh House here expect proposals from London may continue up until Wednesday, but that could be the cutoff point.

“There’s latitude for negotiations and hard deadlines aren’t exactly hard,” said an informed source.

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