Britain risks crashing out of EU if it can't solve Irish border dispute, warns Donald Tusk

Talks on the future relationship are beginning today

Jon Stone
Wednesday 18 April 2018 12:43 BST
What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

Britain is still at risk of crashing out of the EU without a Brexit deal or transition period if it does not produce a solution to the Irish border issue, the president of the European Council has warned.

Donald Tusk said Britain had “caused the problem” in Ireland by voting for Brexit and would therefore have to help solve it.

His comments, made in the European parliament, come on the first day of talks between negotiators on the future relationship between Britain and the UK – something the British side has wanted since last year.

“We want to use the positive momentum in these negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Mr Tusk told MEPs in his report to MEPs on the March European Council summit.

“The UK’s decision on Brexit has caused the problem, and the UK will have to help solve it. Without a solution there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition. Leaders will assess the negotiations in June. In parallel we will start our first talks about the future UK-EU relationship.”

In addition to discussions on the future relationship, senior officials will also discuss the Northern Ireland border issue. The most recent reports from sources close to the negotiations suggest there has been little progress on that issue since the March meeting of the Council.

The UK’s decision on Brexit has caused the problem, and the UK will have to help solve it

Donald Tusk, European Council president

“Ireland is the outstanding issue. We’re all Irish in this regard. A clearly message to be passed on: we stand firmly behind our Irish friends,” said Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party and an ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Syed Kamall, the UK Conservative leader of the European parliament’s ECR group, welcomed the start of future relationship talks, telling MEPs: “Now we can stop talking about the past and focus on the future.”

But European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhoftsadt warned that “after the Windrush scandal in Britain we need to ensure the same is not happening to our European citizens” and that discussion of the withdrawal agreement and citizens’ rights was “not over”.

The provisional agreement reached in December suggested that Britain would either produce a "specific" solution to solve the border issue, negotiate a trade settlement with the EU that meant one was not required, or use a "backstop" agreement that kept UK rules in full alignment with the EU where necessary.

The EU says Theresa May's decision to leave the customs union and single market rules out the trade agreement route, so Brussels negotiators have said they are waiting for Britain to come up with a specific solution. Senior UK government officials have however said they are still focusing on the trade agreement route.

On Monday and Tuesday this week negotiators grappled behind the scenes with the remaining gaps in the withdrawal agreement. The teams are not expected to meet next week, with the next round of talks after today provisionally scheduled for the week commencing 30 April.

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