No Brexit Deal As Key Issues “Still Open” Including Irish Border

by Samuel Abasi Posted on October 15th, 2018

Brussel, Belgium : The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said key issues were “still open” late Sunday after he met Britain’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab in Brussels.

Reports claimed a “negotiator-level” agreement had been reached and Dominic Raab, the UK Brexit secretary, made a snap trip to Belgium to meet with Mr Barnier.

But the EU’s chief negotiator later tweeted: “We met today @DominicRaab and UK negotiating team. Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open, including the backstop for IE/NI to avoid a hard border.”

Mr Barnier said he would debrief the 27 remaining EU states and the European Parliament on the state of the negotiations.

No further negotiations are planned before European leaders including Theresa May meet for a further summit in Brussels on Wednesday, according to a senior EU diplomat.

“Despite constructive and intensive negotiations, several key issues remain unresolved,” one senior EU diplomat said. “No further negotiations are planned ahead of the European Council. The EU negotiator will brief the leaders who will then assess the progress so far.”

Mr Barnier’s announcement immediately deflated speculation of a breakthrough in the difficult negotiations, following Mr Raab’s surprise trip to Brussels and the summoning of ambassadors to a meeting at EU headquarters.

Both sides had indicated they want to sign off on a draft withdrawal agreement to set out the terms of Britain’s divorce from the EU.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, the British government said Raab wanted to resolve “big issues” remaining between the two sides.

Raab’s team had sought a “concession” but believed “they don’t have enough” following the talks.

The key sticking point was Britain’s demand for a time limit for the backstop, which Brussels continued to resist, the newspaper said.

A scheduled meeting of officials on Monday afternoon “to sign off on any deal” had been cancelled, it added.

One of the most pressing issues is the Northern Irish backstop, a mechanism to avoid a hard border.

The EU’s version of the backstop, which would see just Northern Ireland remain aligned with Brussels’ rules, has been called unacceptable by Ms May and is loathed by her DUP allies.

Raab had travelled to Brussels for the urgent meeting amid reports that Prime Minister Theresa May was close to agreeing to a Brexit “backstop” for the border to keep Britain in a “temporary” but potentially indefinite customs union with the EU, ahead of a crucial summit of EU leaders from Wednesday.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, the British government said Raab wanted to resolve “big issues” remaining between the two sides.

Ms May’s counter-proposal is for a “temporary customs arrangement” for the whole of the UK, but Tory Brexiteers fear this could become an open-ended position which would prevent free trade deals with countries around the world.

David Davis has told Tory MPs they should trigger a leadership contest to topple Theresa May unless she drops her Brexit plan this week.

The former Brexit secretary, who resigned over the PM’s Chequers proposal in July, hopes to trigger a leadership contest if she refuses to “budge” before Wednesday’s crunch EU summit.

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, has also hinted she would resign if the Brexit deal gives Northern Ireland special trading terms with the EU.

The failure of the meeting between Mr Raab and Mr Barnier was described as a setback by Ireland’s ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill.

He suggested that a special EU summit in November could be used as an emergency meeting to discuss a no-deal Brexit rather than signing off any agreement.

“Time is running out, there is no doubt about that,” Mr O’Neill told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour. “In all member states preparation for all eventualities are ramping up quite significantly.

“I think if at this week’s European Council meeting there isn’t some way forward, well then I think we will probably see people could decide to avail of the opportunity for the November meeting to focus on preparations for a no-deal outcome.

“But I don’t think we are there yet, there is still a lot of negotiating to be done.”

Mr O’Neill added: “I suspect on all sides there is still a deep determination to try and move forward.”

May is facing growing pressure to change her Brexit plan from eurosceptics in her Conservative party and from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 lawmakers support her minority government on key votes in parliament.

Raab’s predecessor, David Davis, who resigned in July to oppose May’s “Chequers” plan for Brexit, led the way with a call for her cabinet to reject the plan.

“The government’s strategy has three fundamental flaws, all of which are surfacing as we approach the endgame,” Davis wrote ahead of an expected cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

He said May had made “an unwise decision in December to accept the EU’s language on dealing with the Northern Ireland border.”

Influential Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker, deputy chair of the party’s European Research Group of some 60 lawmakers, tweeted that Davis had written a “great article.”

Conservative eurosceptic lawmaker Nadine Dorries agreed that Davis’ intervention was “significant.”

“His position has always been, change the policy, not the PM,” Dorries tweeted. “Getting May out and him becoming an interim leader may be the only way to deliver Brexit and FTA [a free-trade agreement].”

Up to 44 lawmakers had sent letters demanding a confidence vote in May to the Conservatives’ influential 1922 Committee, which must trigger a leadership contest if at least 48 lawmakers request one.

European Union leaders will meet to discuss a possible Brexit deal with Britain in Brussels on Oct 17.

EU officials and diplomats say leaders hope to be able to agree a final withdrawal treaty offer to London, which British Prime Minister Theresa May can then accept in principle, paving the way for a further special summit on Nov 17-18 to complete terms for a political declaration on a future EU-UK trading relationship.

If they cannot strike a deal, an emergency summit could be held in November and if the talks go right down to the wire, a scheduled European Council meeting in December could be used to finalize arrangements.

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