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UK must give 'realistic solution' on Ireland

March 8, 2018

The European Council president has warned the UK against destabilizing the peace process in Northern Ireland. If London failed to provide a "realistic solution" to the border question, Brexit talks would likely flounder.

Protesters dressed as customs officers in Belfast
Image: Getty Images/C. McQuillan

European Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday urged the British government to lay out a "realistic solution" to the Irish border question, saying failure to do so could impede further progress on Brexit talks.

Tusk said the UK must avoid the risk of destabilizing peace process in Northern Ireland, which ended decades of violence between republicans and unionists.

Read more: The Irish border — what you need to know

Tusk said:

  • The question of the border separating Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK and will leave the EU when Brexit goes into effect, must come "first."
  • If the UK does not provide a "specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border," it will be "very difficult to image substantial progress in Brexit negotiations."

  • The EU cannot offer a similar deal to trade in services as it can on goods after the British finance minister said the bloc's third country equivalence regime would be wholly inadequate for the UK, which has a huge financial services sector. 

Irish Brexit fears: Ireland has emerged as a sticking point in Brexit negotiations. The British government's plans to leave the EU's customs union and single market could force both sides to put up customs checks — a "hard" border — between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish government has repeatedly said it will not accept that outcome. The British government has committed to no hard border, but it has not said how it will ensure that.

Read more: Brexit: Theresa May calls for unprecedented UK-EU economic partnership

EU frustrations with UK: The Irish border is not the only topic the EU and the UK have disagreed on in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Tusk rebuked calls for an unprecedented "deep and comprehensive" EU-UK free trade deal after Brexit occurs in March 2019. He repeated previous EU criticism that the UK was "cherry-picking" by requesting access to EU markets without committing to the costs and obligations of EU membership.

Read more: Irish PM rejects Theresa May's proposal of Canada-like border

What happens next? Leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries are to meet at a summit from March 22-23. They are expected to discuss and vote on a set of guidelines for EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Talks between the EU and the UK on a post-Brexit free trade deal could start as early as April.

amp,ls/sms (Reuters, AP)

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