Wed, Dec 06, 2017 - Page 6 News List

DUP scuppers new Brexit deadline for UK prime minister

Bloomberg

British Prime Minister Theresa May came closer than ever on Monday to the Brexit deal she has been working on for months. A last-minute upset over the Irish border left all parties embarrassed and does not bode well for a second run at a breakthrough.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a solution to an intractable problem — what to do with the shared border with Northern Ireland when the UK leaves — had been agreed in the morning and unraveled while May was at a lunch with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.

The meal that should have been the clincher was interrupted by a telephone call between May and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster, whose party opposes the EU’s plans for the island after Brexit and props up May’s government in London.

For the DUP, any proposal that would apply to Northern Ireland and not the rest of the UK was unacceptable.

Juncker emerged shortly afterwards to deliver a two-minute statement, saying “it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today.”

The divisions over Ireland and the powers of the European Court of Justice had proven too great.

The episode will make striking a deal by the end of the year harder, according to a person familiar with the Irish government’s thinking.

Dublin had signed up to the agreement and was happy with it — any change now to placate May’s Northern Irish allies will look like a concession from Dublin.

“We don’t want to give the impression that the Irish government is going to reverse away from the deal we felt we had in place and had agreement on yesterday,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday in remarks broadcast by RTE. “If there are presentational issues that they want to work with us on we’ll look at that.”

“I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today,” Varadkar told reporters in Dublin.

He raised the possibility of another summit next month if this month’s is a flop.

Both sides vowed to carry on talking this week. Juncker was generous to the embattled prime minister and said he is confident that getting a result in time for a summit by the middle of this month is still within reach.

That deadline looms large because it is only once leaders conclude Britain has achieved “sufficient progress” in the first phase of talks that trade negotiations can start and the transition arrangements wanted by businesses can be put in place. It is 17 months since the referendum and Britain will leave the bloc in 15 months, with or without a deal.

However, it is not just the Irish border standing in the way of a deal, according to another person familiar with the situation. The reach of the European Court of Justice in the UK after Brexit was also a stumbling block.

It is an issue of totemic importance to both sides, with some members of May’s Conservative Party seeing it as a symbol of lost sovereignty while the veto-wielding European Parliament says it must have a role in protecting EU citizens.

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