Wed | Jan 23, 2019

May and Tusk meet amid differences on Irish border, trade

Published:Friday | March 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM

May and Tusk meet amid differences on Irish border, trade

Britain urged the European Union (EU) to be constructive and the EU told the United Kingdom to get realistic, as the divorcing partners differed Thursday over the Irish border and

their post-Brexit economic relationship.

Conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May met European Council President Donald Tusk at 10 Downing Street in London, a day before the British leader makes a speech she said will outline "our proposals for the future economic partnership" with the EU.

In a statement after her meeting with Tusk, May's office said she "hoped that European leaders would engage with this thinking constructively".

Frustration with

Britain's stance

Downing St characterised the meeting, over a lunch of poached lemon sole, as "positive and constructive".

But Tusk and other top EU officials have expressed increasing frustration with Britain's stance, which many in the bloc see as vague and unrealistic. Tusk said as the meeting started that he was "not happy" with May's negotiating "red lines," which include leaving the EU's single market and customs union.

The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, but the two sides have yet to negotiate new arrangements for trade, security, aviation and a host of other fields.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said Thursday that British officials should stop pretending "that the UK could obtain a free trade deal with the EU with all the benefits of the single market without the obligations.

"Abandoning such ideas will enable us to begin building an ambitious future partnership based on the foundation of realism," he told a business gathering in Brussels.

British aims have been left vague so far - more than 18 months after the country voted to leave the EU - because May's Conservative government is divided. Some ministers want a clean break with the EU, while others hope to retain close economic alignment with the bloc to cushion the shock of Brexit.

British ambiguity collided this week with the hard problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which will be the only land frontier between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

Britain and the bloc agreed in December that there would be no customs posts or other impediments along the all-but-invisible border.

The EU says Britain has not set out how that can be achieved, so it made its own proposal Wednesday - which Britain rejected. May said the plan, which would keep Northern Ireland inside the EU's customs union, would "undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK".

Tusk said he was keen to hear whether the British government had a better solution.

Before meeting May, he said "no one has come up with anything wiser" than the option outlined in the EU's draft Brexit withdrawal text, which aims to keep people, goods, services and money flowing between the UK's territory and EU member Ireland.

- AP