Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that the EU could pull the plug on the Brexit withdrawal talks in June unless Britain can put forward a coherent plan for the border within the next 10 weeks.
Mr Varadkar said: “I think we need to seriously ask whether a withdrawal agreement is possible at all” after EU officials outright rejected Britain’s current plans as “fantasy island unicorn” politics.
In a clear escalation of tensions, Britain’s existing plans on how its promises to allow a soft Irish border while also treating the North the same as the rest of the UK were yesterday dismissed as unworkable by the EU.
In a detailed leak to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, EU sources said the current proposals suffered a “systematic and forensic annihilation” during a meeting with Britain’s lead negotiator, Olly Robbins.
In addition, EU sources also said the conclusion drawn was that “none of the UK customs options will work, none of them”, while Britain’s former EU ambassador Ivan Rogers said that London’s attempts to find a technology-based border solution have been labelled “fantasy island unicorn” politics by Brussels.
A Downing Street spokesperson has insisted Britain is sticking by its existing commitment to a soft Irish border and to treat the North the same as the rest of the UK, and that its technology border plans remain an option.
However, with the border and Northern Irish issues still central to the talks, Mr Varadkar yesterday raised the stakes significantly by saying that negotiations could be cancelled entirely unless a coherent plan is properly outlined by the end of June.
“The Irish protocol [the December soft border deal which is the source of Britain’s current difficulties] is written down in black and white, and we believe it provides a solution that allows us to avoid a hard border,” he told reporters in Dublin
“Of course we’re open to alternative proposals that may come from the UK, but so far they haven’t really cut the mustard.
“The deadline for concluding the withdrawal agreement is October, and after that it needs to be ratified by the European Parliament and the UK parliament for March next year.
“But it is very much our view that we should have agreed the terms of the Irish protocol, the terms of the backstop, by June.
“And if we’re not able to do that by June, well then I think we need to seriously ask whether a withdrawal agreement is possible at all.”
At a separate event in Cork City, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government remained “rock solid” in its soft border Brexit demands.
Asked by France2 TV last night about the growing stand-off, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that “there are still difficulties, still a risk of failure” in the Brexit talks, and that “if there is no agreement there is a disorderly withdrawal”.
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