Tue, Dec 05, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Britain, EU inching closer to deal


An EU Commission employee arranges the UK and the EU flags at the commission in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday closed in on a divorce deal with EU leaders with last-minute progress on the thorny issue of the Irish border after months of deadlock.

May met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for lunch and was to see EU President Donald Tusk in Brussels for what the bloc said was the “absolute deadline” for an improved offer from London.

A deal on the key divorce issues — Ireland, Britain’s divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals in Britain — would allow the EU to approve the start of trade and transition talks at a summit on Friday next week.

“Tell me why I like Mondays!” Tusk said on Twitter, saying he had been “encouraged” by a telephone call with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on the negotiations.

“Getting closer to sufficient progress” at the summit, he added.

May and Juncker did not speak to reporters as she arrived, with the pair shaking hands before he ushered her in to lunch by putting an arm behind her back.

Ireland’s demands on the status of the border with British-ruled Northern Ireland have been the key stumbling block recently, with fears that the talks could even collapse amid tensions between the two neighbors.

Negotiators are “very close to final agreement” on issues relating to Ireland that will ensure there will be no re-imposition of a hard border on the island, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said yesterday.

“I think we have now a language that gives us the safeguards we need that, regardless of how the phase two discussions go, that there will be reassurance for people that they will not see the re-emergence of a border on this island,” Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.

In a further sign of progress, Tusk canceled a trip to the Middle East planned for today and tomorrow “due to a critical moment in the Brexit talks and due to consultations on draft guidelines for the second phase,” Coveney’s spokesman Preben Aamann said.

The EU had yesterday as the last deadline for Britain to make sufficient progress on the three key Brexit divorce issues, but London rejected the EU’s deadline and appears keen to push the talks to the wire ahead of the summit.

“With plenty of discussions still to go, Monday will be an important staging post on the road to the crucial December council,” a British government spokesman said.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel seemed to back Britain’s position, saying that the decision was ultimately for the leaders of the remaining 27 countries.

“It seems to go into the right direction. I hope that the next hours will bring that. But it is as well not for Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier to decide,” but for the EU summit, Bettel said

A formal EU decision on any deal is not expected until tomorrow.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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