Michel Barnier says EU wants to 'de-dramatise' Irish border issue

Michel Barnier says EU wants to 'de-dramatise' Irish border issue

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Theresa May will issue a fresh call to EU leaders for compromise in the Brexit talks as Brussels' chief negotiator said he was ready to come forward with a new offer on the Irish border.

As EU leaders prepared to meet in Salzburg, Michel Barnier said he was working on an "improved" plan to avoid the return of a hard border while respecting the territorial integrity of the UK in an attempt to break the talks deadlock.

After briefing EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, Mr Barnier warned time for an agreement was running out and that the "moment of truth" would come at the next full EU summit on October 18.

"It is then we shall see whether agreement we are hoping for is in our grasp," he told a news conference.

The informal gathering of EU leaders in Salzburg is the first time they have met together since Mrs May published her Chequers blueprint for Brexit in July.

The Prime Minister is expected to brief the other 27 leaders on proposals over dinner on Wednesday and they will then have a separate discussion on Thursday after she has left.


'UK's position has evolved'

A senior No 10 source said she would tell them the UK's position had "evolved" and that the EU would need to do the same if they were to get an agreement.

And she will make clear that the existing EU "backstop" proposal to avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit remains "unacceptable".

The Government argues Brussels' plan, which would see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union until a new arrangement could be agreed, would effectively create a border between it and rest of the UK.

"We are ready to improve this proposal. Work on the EU side is ongoing,” said Mr Barnier.

"We are clarifying which goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would need to be checked and where, when and by whom these checks could be performed," he said.

"We can also clarify that most checks can take place away from the border at the company premises or in the markets.

"We need to de-dramatise the checks that are needed."

There was no immediate response to his comments from either Downing Street or the Department for Exiting the EU, and it was unclear whether they would be sufficient to unlock the negotiations.