Fresh on the heels of a meeting between the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Brussels, it has become more apparent that a successful Brexit deal with the UK will, at this stage, requires a major compromise on the Irish border issue.
“We are in the final stage of the Brexit negotiations and working hand-in-hand with the Irish government. To agree to any deal, we need to have a legally sound backstop solution for both Ireland and Northern Ireland,” Barnier said in a tweet at the end of the meeting on October 4.
According to an EU source, hopes are high that a new offer tabled by the UK could signal a deal, as British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised new proposals by October 17.
From Ireland’s side, London has yet to formally deliver on its new approach, said Varadkar, adding that Dublin was open, in principle, to anything that helps escape extensive Irish border checks, but voiced concerns over an all-UK customs union, which the EU steadfastly rejected.
For its part, the UK seems to be looking at a fall-back option to keep the whole of the island in a customs union with the EU.
EU insists on a backstop
The EU-27 bloc is sticking to its plan to avoid hard borders between the Northern Ireland, which remains inside the United Kingdom, and EU-member Ireland if London and Brussels cannot agree on a trade pact for the future. This would put the prospect of a seamless border in jeopardy and could threaten the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended Northern Ireland’s deadly four-decade-old sectarian conflict.
European Council President Donald Tusk, having already met with Varadkar, urged May to get down to sealing an agreement that would preserve peace in Ireland and open the way to a post-Brexit relationship. According to Tusk, the model would combine a free trade agreement with close security, global affairs, research, and other cooperation.