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The EU’s top Brexit negotiator has called on the British government to provide a way to avoid imposing a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as Brussels and Dublin ramp up the pressure on Theresa May ahead of a crunch summit next month.
Michel Barnier said the onus was on the UK “to come forward with proposals” to avoid imposing a physical border in Ireland amid talks Northern Ireland could stay part of the EU’s single market and customs union after Brexit.
“Those who want Brexit must offer solutions”, said Mr Barnier in Brussels on Monday. The UK has resisted plans to allow Northern Ireland to become an effective “special economic area” within Britain. But Mr Barnier said it was not clear whether the British government would maintain its regulatory harmony with the EU after Brexit – complicating the future position of Northern Ireland.
“The UK says it will continue to apply some rules but not all rules. It is unclear what rules will apply to Northern Ireland after Brexit and what the UK is willing to commit to avoid a hard border,” he said.
This issue of regulatory divergence “will be decisive, it will shape the future relationship and the conditions for the ratification of that relationship from European governments” said Mr Barnier.
EU governments have cooled on the prospect of the UK being granted “sufficient progress” a crunch December leaders’ summit, as talks stumble over the financial settlement and the Irish border question.
Ireland’s prime minister has warned his government was willing to wait until the new year for “concessions” from the UK. Dublin is demanding “written commitments” to avoid a hard border in the first phase of the Brexit talks.
Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for state, said the EU27 was still waiting for the UK to “get their skates on”.
“We are interested in starting the second phase of negotiations. But right now I see no chance that we can really send a signal at the European Council in December that these negotiations can start”, Mr Roth said in Brussels on Monday.
The collapse of coalition talks in Germany has also raised fears of more delays in the Brexit talks. But the Dutch minister for foreign affairs said the onus was still on the UK government to unblock talks regardless of events in Berlin.
“It the moment we’re waiting for a substantial offer from the British, and there is a not really a role for the Germans at the moment”, Halbe Zijlstra said.