Barnier: Brexit deal at 90%, Ireland a 'sticking point'

Geneva Stokes
October 20, 2018

The Taoiseach met with British Prime Minister Theresa May for half an hour last night before the main Brexit discussion with all 28 countries, including the UK. But she said she didn't believe the extension would be needed.

The extension idea angered pro-Brexit UK politicians, who saw it as an attempt to bind Britain to the bloc indefinitely.

Britain's Conservative former prime minister John Major (L) stands alongside Labour former prime minister Tony Blair (R) as he speaks at the University of Ulster in Derry (Londonderry), Northern Ireland on June 9, 2016 during a visit to campaign for a "remain" vote in the European Union referendum.

The Republic of Ireland and the European Union, invoking the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), demand that there be no border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But each has rejected the other side's solution.

Nigel Farage was broadcasting his show from the EU Parliament in Brussels. "We have to have a deal before".

"Ninety percent of the accord on the table has been agreed with Britain", Barnier told France Inter radio.

European Union leaders on Wednesday noted that "despite intensive negotiations, not enough progress has been achieved" for an extraordinary summit on November 17-18.

Juri Ratas, the Estonian Prime Minister, struck a more sympathetic tone. "I believe we can achieve a deal. a deal is in the interest not just of the United Kingdom but also the European Union", she stated.

This week's summit has always been billed as "the moment of truth" when agreement was needed to allow time for ratification before Brexit day in March.

May's official spokesperson said, "We've shown we can do hard deals together constructively". A December summit was looking like the last opportunity to save the day.

Despite the lack of progress, the mood music at the summit was positive. A deal must be sealed soon so parliaments have time to give their verdict on it. Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz also claimed that "a lot of what May said was already known to us".

"There's no need to dramatize matters".

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And negotiating some kind of alternative arrangement with Northern Ireland could cause cracks to form in the U.K.'s constitutional unity with Scotland, writes the Financial Times.

Simon Collins, the Executive Officer of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, warned the Government it should not let fishermen down again - insisting the key issue between the fishing industry and the UK Government remains to be "trust" in Brexit talks.

With divorce talks stuck, the bloc has suggested extending that period, to give more time to strike a trade deal that ensures a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

And one person familiar with the discussions said May's Tory party would find it hard to be fighting the next general election - due in 2022 - while the country is still inside the single market and customs union.

That more positive atmosphere was echoed by other European Union officials, saying May appeared to show greater understanding for some of the EU's concerns, including Ireland's need for an insurance "backstop" to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland - the key stumbling block so far in the talks.

Britain says it has not asked for an extension, but May has not yet come up with proposals for unblocking the Irish border logjam.

The summit continues Thursday with an agenda limited to some issues both sides firmly agree on, including fighting cybercrime and dealing with an assertive Russian Federation.

He specified that the Brexit agreement was ready by 90 percent.

With a crucial vote in parliament on any deal, May, who lost her Conservative Party's majority in an election previous year, risks a damaging defeat.

As she arrived for Thursday's meeting, May told reporters that the EU's original proposal for an Irish backstop was "unacceptable" because she said it would have meant "a border in the Irish Sea".

"Unless domestic demand surprises to the upside, which seems unlikely, we still see downside export surprises as a key vulnerability for United Kingdom rates and GBP", they said.

"We are in a negotiation but at the moment it begins to look more like a capitulation than a negotiation". "That is the problem".

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