Brexit warning: Leo Varadkar issued May with an ultimatium

Brexit warning: Leo Varadkar issued May with an ultimatium

Leo Varadkar meets British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, at the EU’s Western Balkans summit.

The Taoiseach told the Irish Times: “If we are not making real and substantial progress by June then we need to seriously question whether we’re going to have a Withdrawal Agreement at all.

“We stand by the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and the text of the protocol published in March as does the taskforce and the 27 member states that are behind us.”

Mrs May’s Brexit “war cabinet” met again on Tuesday without reaching agreement on which of the two options for customs arrangements on the Irish border – the “customs partnership” and “maximum facilitation” models – it will back.

Brexiteers favour the “maximum facilitation” model – otherwise known as “MaxFac” – which uses technology and a trusted trader scheme to ensure border checks are kept to a minimum.

Experts have cast doubt on the plan though, insisting the highly complex technology needed to enforce such a system would not be ready untill well after the end of the transition period in December 2020.

The EU is putting pressure on Britain to present its preferred option at a meeting of the European Council in June, although Downing Street insists it will not put a timetable on the process.

Mrs May secured a win over Brexiteers, convincing them to sign up to continued customs union membership until the technologies are finally ready to implement the system, according to sources close to her Brexit war Cabinet.

The Prime Minister, however, rebuked the notion of a softening of her approach to Brexit negotations while speaking to reporters at the EU’s Western Balkans summit in Sofia.

Mrs May said: “No we are not (climbing down). The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union, we are leaving the European Union.

“Of course we will be negotiating future customs arrangements with the European Union and I have set three objectives, the Government has three objectives in those.
“We need to be able to have our own independent trade policy, we want as friction-less a border as possible.”

The Irish border is one of the most vexed issues facing Brexit negotiators.

The UK does not want to see the EU’s “backstop” option on the border which would see alignment of Northern Ireland-related matters with the EU, ministers have said.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney on a trip to Brussels to meet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said Britain would does not require a fully completed solution to the Irish border only “significant progress”.

Mr Coveney told reporters: “It is really important to have substantial progress by the end of June because I think people will find it difficult to accept there is credibility in the process that it is hoping to conclude by the end of October.

“If some of the more difficult issues in the negotiations aren’t at least taking shape by the end of June. So Michel Barnier and I are very clear that there needs to be sufficient progress by the end of June in order to install confidence in the process that we can get it done by the end of October.

“If there isn’t sufficient progress in June I think there is going to be a difficult summer ahead.”

Softening his tone, he added: “Nobody is saying everything had to be resolved at the end of June but I think we certainly have to see a solution on the Irish border backstop issue taking shape by the end of June.”

 

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