Wed | Nov 14, 2018

EU, UK fail to resolve border row as Brexit deadline looms

Published:Friday | September 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and British Prime Minister Theresa May wait for the beginning of the plenary session of the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, yesterday.

SALZBURG (AP):

Britain and its European Union partners failed yesterday to secure a breakthrough in Brexit talks, largely because of seemingly intractable divisions over the best way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and how to deal with future trade.

With Britain's departure from the EU on March 29, 2019, looming, there are growing concerns that a deal on the post-Brexit relationship may not be cobbled together in time to ensure a smooth and orderly British exit.

All leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, are desperate to solve the biggest Brexit riddle - how to keep goods moving freely between Northern Ireland in the UK and EU member state Ireland.

Despite reports of a friendly spirit at a summit in Salzburg, Austria, the fundamental differences remained. EU Council President Donald Tusk said parts of May's Brexit plan - dubbed chequers after a key Brexit meeting at the premier's country residence of the same name - simply "will not work".

But just minutes after he spoke, May insisted that her Brexit plan was the "only serious and credible" proposal on the table.

Like many leaders, including May, Tusk said that "we need to compromise on both sides". He wants to see a major breakthrough by the time the leaders meet again in Brussels on October 18-19.

Tusk said a special Brexit summit could be held in mid-November if things progress as hoped - but only as a "punchline" if most of the deal had already been agreed.

If Britain is to leave with a deal in six months, May and the Europeans must find solutions in coming weeks so parliaments have enough time to ratify the agreement.

They've spent two days in Salzburg trying to do just that, but with things at a standstill, each side tried to ramp up pressure on the other. Each is urging the other to compromise, while EU leaders issue constant warnings to Britain about the Brexit clock ticking.

"Time is running short," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters. "We want to avoid a 'no deal Brexit', but we are preparing for that. We are hiring extra staff and officials, bringing in IT systems. We are ready for that eventuality, should it occur."

Tusk said that key parts of the British proposals to leave would undermine the union of the 27 remaining members.

May wants to keep the UK inside the bloc's single market for goods, but not services. The EU has insisted that the single market cannot be cherry-picked like that.