Latest: Government urges May to publish plan to break border deadlock

Latest: Government urges May to publish plan to break border deadlock
European Council President Donald Tusk, left, and Leo Varadkar before their meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. Photo: AP Photo/Olivier Matthys

Latest: The Government has urged British Prime Minister Theresa May to bring forward her proposals to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks over the Northern Ireland border.

Europe Minister, Helen McEntee, said she was confident a deal could be done but that the negotiations were reaching a "critical point".

Her comments came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held talks in Brussels on Thursday with European Council president Donald Tusk and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Ireland's Europe Minister Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)
Ireland's Europe Minister Helen McEntee (Niall Carson/PA)

Mrs May has rejected the EU’s proposal for a “backstop” to ensure there is no return to a hard border in the North after Brexit, arguing that it would effectively impose a border between the North and the rest of the UK.

But with EU leaders set to meet again later this month in Brussels to review progress in the negotiations, Ms McEntee said they needed to see Mrs May’s promised alternative as soon as possible.

“I do believe that we can reach an agreement. I am confident given the fact that we have done a huge amount of work on the withdrawal agreement – it is about 90% complete,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We have agreed in principle a transition period. I do think there is a lot of common ground in terms of the future relationship moving forward, so we are really now at the critical point.

“I think in the next 10 days if there is a proposal, obviously on its own it won’t resolve the border issue, but certainty if something is legally sound and workable, I do believe that the (EU’s Brexit) taskforce will work with Prime Minister May.”

Where the will is there it can be done, and I do believe the will is there

She added: “I do think that the Prime Minister wants to reach an agreement because I think this is the best outcome for all of us. I think a cliff-edge or a no-deal scenario is something we shouldn’t even contemplate.

“We have 10 days between the teams to negotiate and we have seen what has happened in a short space of time previously. I think where the will is there it can be done, and I do believe the will is there.”

Mr Tusk and Mr Barnier have said the next EU summit on October 18-19 will be the “moment of truth” when it should be become clear whether it is possible for the two sides to reach an agreement.

Leo Varadkar with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday (Olivier Matthys/AP)
Leo Varadkar with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday (Olivier Matthys/AP)

In Brussels on Thursday, Mr Varadkar welcomed the EU’s “ongoing solidarity” with Ireland.

He said Ireland’s objectives remained as they have been since the start of the process – protecting the Common Travel Area on the island; ensuring no hard border; protecting the rights of Irish citizens living in the North; and striking a trade deal with the UK.

“I want to very much agree with Donald Tusk in his call for us to get down to business,” he added.

“I am very keen to see an agreement concluded by November if at all possible – that is the interests of Ireland, the EU and the UK.”

- Press Association

Latest: Government urges May to publish plan to break border deadlock

Earlier: Taoiseach unclear on proposed Canada-style Brexit deal offered by Donald Tusk

The EU is prepared to offer the UK an alternative to the British Prime Minister's current Brexit proposals, a change which Boris Johnson is calling a "superb way forward".

The former British Foreign Secretary, and many other Tory Brexiteers, support a Canada-style free trade agreement.

And European Council President Donald Tusk is suggesting it could be a solution.

But it is still not clear how this idea would avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

"The EU has been offered not just a Canada deal but a Canada+++ deal," said Mr Tusk.

"Much further reaching on trade, on internal security and on foreign policy co-operation.

“And this offer remains in place. The EU is serious about getting the best possible deal. Even though we haven’t changed our minds that the consequences of Brexit will be negative, for both sides.”

The Taoiseach says he is not sure what the alternative Brexit deal, suggested by the EU, really means.

Theresa May is under increased pressure about her stalled Brexit plans and many Tories support the newly suggested deal.

But Leo Varadkar is not even sure what it really means - after the deal was described by Donald Tusk as 'Canada Plus Plus Plus'.

"If we do negotiate a Canada Plus Plus Plus Minus whatever brackets asterix, it is going to take the transition period to negotiate that agreement and there is a possibility that an agreement of that nature that would be unique would take more than that transition period to do," said Mr Varadkar.

Following talks in Brussels with the Taoiseach, Mr Tusk said the EU remained committed to securing a deal with the UK which maintained a relationship that was “as close and as special as possible”.

His intervention comes after Mrs May told the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham that her Chequers plan was the only proposal which would avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mrs May is adamant she will not accept the EU’s proposed “backstop” arrangement which would effectively see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union if there was no wider deal – requiring checks on goods going between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Tusk said the EU remained “united behind Ireland” and the need to “preserve the Northern Ireland peace process”.

“Despite the UK Government’s rejection of the original EU backstop proposal we will not give up seeking a workable solution that fully respects the Good Friday Agreement as well as the integrity of the single market and customs union,” he said.

Digital Desk

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