Brexit negotiators will have to make progress “in the next week or so” if there is to be any hope of concluding a deal before the end of November deadline, Ireland’s foreign minister has said.
Britain needed to “follow through on the commitments they have already made” on the Irish border issue, said Simon Coveney after a meeting with his French counterparts in Paris.
EU officials have repeatedly said that December would be too late to sign a withdrawal agreement because of the time needed to ratify such a treaty, which was supposed to be completed by October. But some now believe a lack of progress could mean the deadline slips again.
“We are at a moment of truth. We are running out of time and the vast majority of the text of a withdrawal treaty has already been agreed. If there is to be a breakthrough in November, then we need the negotiating teams to find a way forward in the next week or so,” Mr Coveney said.
“Effectively what that means from our perspective is the British government following through on the commitments they have already made in the context of the Irish border issue.
“Commitments that they made last December and last March. So it is encouraging to see the continuing solidarity that we see here in Paris and indeed across the European Union on that core issue, which really remains one of the final issues that needs to be resolved.”
But Irish public broadcaster RTE reports that Irish officials detected no shift in the British position on the border in a meeting with Dominic Raab earlier this week.
It came after Mr Raab told MPs in a letter that he expected a deal to be done by the end of November. The EU was expected to hold a summit this month to finalise a deal but it was cancelled in late October, with the 27 national leaders citing a lack of progress needed.
A meeting of EU27 ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday was given an unexciting report of progress by the Commission, with practically no movement in talks since the European Council summit last month.
Talks remain deadlocked on the issue of the Northern Irish backstop, a policy meant to ensure there is no hard border with Ireland under any circumstances.
The EU says new customs checks will be required on the Irish sea but Theresa May, under pressure from her DUP allies, has said no British prime minister could agree to them – claiming they are a breach of sovereignty.
In September the UK looked close to agreeing to regulatory – as opposed to customs – checks on the Irish sea, but a swift rejection of that idea by the DUP appears to have killed it, at least for now.
As a result of the impasse there has been no formal drawing up of an outline of the future trade relationship between the EU and UK, which Britain has been desperate to discuss since talks started over a year ago. Ms May’s Chequers plan, for frictionless trade outside the customs union and single market, was rejected by EU leaders as unworkable.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We want to get a deal as soon as possible and agreed in the autumn. We will continue to work with the EU to make this happen.”
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