UK plan to avoid hard border is ‘unworkable’

Britain’s latest plan to avoid a hard border was immediately criticised as unworkable by European leaders, amid chaos within the British cabinet.

Simon Coveney: Paper represents a step forward but still work to do before summit.

The Government said it welcomed the publication of the UK paper but warned much work needs to be done to avoid a collapse in the talks.

The UK’s proposed “backstop” plan for trade with the EU after Brexit has been published after an “expected” end date of 2021 was included in it. It followed crunch meetings between Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who insisted a cut-off date be included.

The proposal would see the UK match EU trade tariffs temporarily in order to avoid a hard Irish border post-Brexit.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the paper represented a step forward on the customs element of the “Irish Backstop” text, but there was “still work to do to achieve progress for June Summit” on June 28.

Responding on Twitter, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier set out the criteria on which he would judge the UK’s proposal, including the need for a “workable solution” to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, went further, saying it was “difficult to see” how this could be achieved.

“A backstop that is temporary is not a backstop, unless the definitive arrangement is the same as the backstop,” he added.

Mairéad McGuinness, MEP and first vice-president of the European Parliament, said the UK paper on Brexit is a long overdue step that is insufficient and incomplete.

“The proposal for a temporary customs arrangement will need to be further studied but appears to go only part of the way to what has already been agreed. There is much work to do,” she said.

“Michel Barnier has today said any backstop must be ‘all weather’. It is therefore concerning that the paper appears to want a time limit on the arrangement,” Ms McGuinness said.

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