Brexit talks in crisis over Irish border ahead of crunch summit

Remigio Civitarese
Ottobre 17, 2018

Diplomatic sources in Brussels confirmed to AFP that negotiations have been suspended until Wednesday, when the leaders of the other 27 European Union member states will be in town on the eve of their October summit, which had already been billed as a "moment of truth".

Loiseau said "everything is on the table" and France had set up the mechanisms to pass emergency legislation to deal with the chaos expected in the event of "no deal".

European Council president Donald Tusk said Brexit talks could be put on hold until a summit in December if Mrs May fails to come forward with fresh "concrete" proposals tonight.

"A few days ago I presented in cabinet a plan prepared with the foreign minister to allow us to legislate by decree, in order to take all necessary measures in case of no deal".

Citing diplomats familiar with the situation, Bloomberg said the transition extension until the end of 2021 - which would only be enacted if trade talks slowed - would help overcome the last major hurdle in Brexit talks, namely the Irish border issue.

The backstop is still the main stumbling block in negotiations.

Former Tory MEP Stanley Johnson has said the Irish would shoot each other "if they want to" irrespective of the status of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

No 10 said cabinet members also endorsed May's call to "maintain the integrity of the union" between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which the prime minister had told the Tuesday morning meeting was under threat by the EU's proposed version of the backstop.

He said: 'We have to give [Mrs May] room to negotiate.' He also delivered a specific warning to his predecessor Mr Johnson, saying: 'Boris is a backbencher so... he is free to say exactly as he thinks.

According to EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, the backstop would only apply to Northern Ireland.

But a spokesperson for May said there were "a number of means of achieving what we want to achieve" on the backstop.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP's Brexit spokesperson, said it now believes a no-deal Brexit was nearly inevitable, and described the talks in Brussels as turning into a "battle for the union".

Other sources familiar with Barnier's meeting with European Union ambassadors confirmed this, and one added that "certain countries insisted that preparations for a "no deal" be accelerated".

"I think this is obviously a hard period", British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt told reporters as he arrived for a scheduled meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.

"Whether we do (it) this week or not, who knows?" "That's new. It hasn't been there before", he said.

To illustrate the perceived intractability of the Irish border problem, Tusk compared it to the mythical Gordian knot that can not be untied because it is so complicated.

May has proposed to the EU that the whole of the United Kingdom would remain in the customs union after Brexit, but Brussels has said it needs more time to evaluate the proposal.

The PM stressed that the government must not let the backstop issue disagreement "derails the prospects of a good deal", leaving the country with "a no deal outcome that no-one wants".

May's plans have infuriated the pro-Brexit core of her centre-right Conservative Party - not to mention her Northern Irish allies in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

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