All leaders of the EU 27 are in agreement that Brexit talks will not proceed to phase two unless Britain offers further assurances on the border, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.
Mr Coveney added that Ireland will not need to use its veto to stop talks moving to the issue of trading relations because EU negotiators will themselves block the move if Britain does not offer up a workable solution ahead of December’s crunch summit in Brussels.
He said he received assurances from EU leaders Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk, and Jean Claude Juncker on Friday that the EU would hold firm on this demand.
“They have repeated the message that Ireland’s problems are the EU’s problem, so Ireland is not going to be isolated and forced to use a veto,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ.
“We can’t allow a situation to develop where we move into phase two of discussions on Brexit in the hope that somehow the border is going to be resolved without having any credible understanding as to how that’s going to be done.”
EU leaders insist that a hardening of the border is inevitable if Britain leaves the single market and customs union, as checks will be required to monitor movement between jurisdictions operating under two different regulatory systems.
One solution offered by Europe is the suggestion the north would continue to comply with EU regulations post-Brexit. The British government has rejected such a concept as a non-runner.
Any arrangement which appears to give the North a separate status would also be resisted by the Democratic Unionists (DUP), whose 10 MPs are effectively keeping Ms May’s Tories in power after they lost their majority in June’s general election.
Ms May has been given until December 4 to come up with further proposals on issues including the border, the Brexit divorce bill, and citizens’ rights.
Moving on to phase two of the negotiations, on trade, can only happen if all 27 leaders of the remaining EU countries agree at the European Council summit on December 14-15 that “sufficient progress” has been made on the first set of issues.
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has suggested the only solution is to introduce technology to manage multinational trade while turning a blind eye to lower-level cross-frontier movement.
That is essentially the proposal forwarded by Britain in its position paper on the border earlier this year.
Mr Ahern told BBC Radio 4: “Theresa May, take her at her word, she’s confidently said she doesn’t want a physical border, the EU don’t want a physical border, the Irish Government don’t.
“So you’re left down with the one alternative — to make technology work in most cases and to throw a blind eye to those areas that can’t come in within technology.”
Meanwhile, British Labour MP Kate Hoey, who was born in Co Antrim, has been compared to Donald Trump after saying Ireland will have to pay if it wants to erect a physical border with the North if Britain leaves the EU with no deal.
“We’re not the ones who are going to be putting up the physical border,” she said. “If it ends up with a no deal we won’t be putting up the border — they’ll have to pay for it, because it doesn’t need to happen.”
Her remarks drew comparisons with the US president, who has long pledged to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and claimed Mexico will also pay for it.
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