EU chiefs back Irish threat to veto Brexit trade talks

Ireland’s threats to veto Brexit trade talks unless there is a guarantee of no hard border in the North have been backed by EU chiefs ahead of crunch talks next month.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the demand for a guarantee on a frictionless border to British prime minister Theresa May in Sweden amid concerns of a “deepening rift” over Brexit between EU nations and Britain.

He told reporters that for months Ireland had only been given assurances of no hard border, adding: “And we want that written down in practical terms in the conclusions of phase one.

“What we want to take off the table before we even talk about trade is any idea that there would be a hard border, a physical border or a border resembling the past. Then we’d be happy to move on to phase two.”

London needs to advance to phase two talks to hammer out a new trade deal with the EU. However, sufficient progress must be made on the Irish question before then. The North has become the key sticking point before EU leaders decide next month to advance talks.

If leaders do not agree to the second phase at an Brussels summit on December 14, it could mean no progress until March. That would add to business uncertainty and increase the likelihood of a no deal.

Mr Varadkar later signalled that those trade talks could become stalled without a border guarantee.

“The European Union is certainly willing to say that progress hasn’t been made,” he said. “And we’re willing to do that in the December summit if needs be.”

European Council president Donald Tusk echoed Ireland’s demands.

“In order to avoid any ambiguity about our work calendar, I made it very clear to Prime Minister May that this progress needs to happen at the beginning of December at the latest,” said Mr Tusk.

The demand on Ms May came as her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, met Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in Dublin, where both had differing views on Brexit. Mr Coveney said Ireland was being asked to jump “into the dark”.

“We don’t see how can avoid checks if operating a different regulatory rule book on the island of Ireland,” said Mr Coveney.

Mr Johnson said the border should be dealt with in the second phase of talks.

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