EU tells Theresa May to break the Brexit impasse over Northern Ireland ahead of Brussels summit | News | DW | 17.10.2018
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EU tells Theresa May to break the Brexit impasse over Northern Ireland ahead of Brussels summit

Ahead of a Brexit summit on Wednesday, the EU has urged the UK to make "concrete proposals" to break a stalemate in negotiations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel compared any solution to "squaring a circle."

With time running out to reach a Brexit deal, European Council President Donald Tusk (right) has called on British Prime Minister Theresa May to forward new ideas to solve the Northern Irish border that has deadlocked negotiations.

"Tomorrow I am going to ask Prime Minister May if she has concrete proposals on how to break the impasse," Tusk said late on Tuesday. "Only such proposals can determine if a breakthrough is possible."

May is set to discuss the talks with other EU heads of state in Brussels for a major Brexit summit on Wednesday.

Read more: Hard Brexit could trigger 'massive crisis,' warns German industry

'No grounds for optimism'

Tusk warned that chances of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal were greater than ever, and warned there were "no grounds for optimism" ahead of the Wednesday summit.

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"We need something really creative to protect our values, to protect our single market," Tusk added, while pledging to also respect British sovereignty. "For this we need a new method of thinking."

The two sides appeared to be close to reaching a deal on Sunday, but talks stalled over disagreements over how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

Irish headaches

If the UK leaves with no deal by March 29, it could lead to border checks between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. Both the EU and the UK have vowed to avoid that outcome.

The EU has suggested including a "backstop" clause into the Brexit deal that would keep Northern Ireland within the EU's customs union and aligned with EU regulations.

Although this would keep the Irish border open, the UK has rejected the proposal out of fear that it could create a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It has instead suggested that the whole of the UK should stay in a temporary customs arrangement with the EU until both sides have negotiated a post-Brexit free trade deal.

The EU has nevertheless said it would not agree to time-limited arrangements due to concerns that an automatic expiration of the customs agreement could trigger a hard border in the future.

Bracing for impact

On Tuesday, The Financial Times reported that the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier was open to extending the UK's post-Brexit transitional period by one year in exchange for the UK making concessions over Northern Ireland.

But May has faced strong pressure from hardline Brexiteers in her Conservative party against making any compromises to the EU. The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the conservative and euroskeptic party on whose support she relies to maintain a parliamentary majority, has also opposed EU proposals.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled the difficulty both sides face in achieving a final deal on Tuesday, comparing attempts to solve the border problem to "squaring a circle."

Read more: May rallies Conservatives around Brexit plan

At Wednesday's summit, EU heads of state are also set to discuss preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

"We cannot close our eyes to the fact that we are now in a situation where we can't rule out anything," said Michael Roth, Germany's minister for European affairs.

dj/amp (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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