United front hides big Brexit chasm

As EU leaders continue to cling to safe words and avoid dealing with major issues, Brexit could become one of the longest drawn out break-ups.

Worse still, all the dilly-dallying could result in a no-deal.

As yesterday’s deadline to sign off on entering the next phase of Brexit talks lapsed — something that had been well flagged ahead of the EU summit — both Theresa May and other European politicians came out with the same language.

They spoke of the “positive” negotiations that have “some way to go” and the “flexible and imaginative
approach” needed in relation to the Irish border.

However, behind the united rhetoric, it appears Europe and Britain are very much at odds, particularly when it comes to how much Britain should pay as part of its divorce bill. It also seems a practical solution to allowing a “seamless and frictionless” border is far from being pinned down.

While EU leaders, bar Ms May, have given the green light to begin internal discussion on post-Brexit trade, we are a long way from agreement on the first three critical issues: The border, the bill, and citizens’ rights.

As expected, Leo Varadkar and other EU leaders could not sign off on progressing to formal trade talks, as not enough progress had been made.

However, it was stressed that, by starting internal talks, the EU was paving the way for discussions to begin perhaps in December, when the EU Council next meets.

While Ms May said both sides are in “touching distance” of agreement on citizens’ rights — which takes in the right to work and live in the UK and EU — resolutions on the other two issues seem to be out of sight.

The issue of the border, which invoked the standard response of a need for
“imaginative” solutions, is far from solved and it is undoubtedly the highest priority for Ireland.

However, it is the financial package — if the EU gets its way it could see Britain paying more than €60bn — which is, perhaps, the biggest sticking point.

After leaving the summit to allow the 27 other members to discuss Brexit without her, Ms May said her government is going through the issue of payments to the EU “line by line”, as it is “what British taxpayers would expect”.

She has already committed to paying into the EU budget until 2021, which will cost €20bn, but the EU will be seeking far more than this.

With just seven weeks until the next EU summit, and very little progress on such basic and fundamental issues, it seems ambitious to think that sufficient headway will be made before leaders return to Brussels.

Even the Taoiseach yesterday seemed to hint such a target will again be missed.

However, the time for
general speak is long past, skirting around the issues won’t lead to a solution.

As Mr Varadkar put it yesterday: “We’re looking for a little more detail from the UK on what sort of future relationship they want. They say that they want the closest possible relationship with the European Union after Brexit, but we’d like to know what that actually means. We don’t really have that, as yet.”


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