Amidst speculation that a final date for a provisional Brexit deal may be on the table, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has made clear that trade talks will not begin unless the question of the Irish border with the UK is first settled.
Brussels and London theoretically reached a preliminary agreement on the question of the Irish border, financial settlements, and the status of EU citizens in the UK in December 2017. The British government, however, has failed to provide clear assurances that a hard border will not be introduced between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, Varadkar reiterated Dublin’s “Ireland first” position, making clear that an agreement on the border issue was a pre-condition for trade talks to begin.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is unable to compromise on the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the Single Market as the Protestant-led Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has made clear it will not support a different regime for the country than the rest of the UK.
May’s Conservative government has depended on the DUP’s parliamentary support since she called snap elections in June 2017.
British officials believe a final deadline for a fully-fleshed Brexit deal – if no interim agreement is secured – is January 2019 as the UK’s exit from the EU is set for March of the same year – exactly two years after the UK triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union.
The British Parliament has been promised a “meaningful vote” on a final deal, which will be a “take it or leave it” agreement given the looming deadline.
The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, insists a deal must be secured by October 2018, to provide European, national, and regional parliaments enough time to ratify the accord.
The provisional agreement is unlikely to be a fully-fledged Free Trade Agreement, as the negotiation process is likely to take more time. The two parties are likely to begin negotiations for an interim period to allow companies to continue operating under the status quo, but London wants to avoid a temporary deal that will allow freedom of movement.
In a speech on March 10, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond expressed his certainty that a future agreement will include financial services, suggesting that London’s status as the global financial capital is critical for the British and European economies.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the UK daily the Telegraph late last week that he wants a “no deal” scenario to remain on the table.