Brexit Briefing, 21 September 2018

Sep 20, 2018

The “moment of truth” for Brexit negotiations will be the October European Council meeting according to European Council President Donald Tusk. The statement came following an informal meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg this week. Top of the Brexit agenda was the topic of the Irish border where an agreement is still to be reached.

EU leaders said that there will be no Withdrawal Agreement without a functioning backstop arrangement for the Irish border. And while the EU recognised that some elements of the proposals put forward by the UK government in its Chequers plans were positive, plans for an economic cooperation with the EU will not work.

What’s the Irish issue again?

The EU wants a guarantee that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland and have proposed that a common regulatory area between the EU and Northern Ireland might just solve the issue.  This would mean that Northern Ireland could effectively stay within the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and the UK has rejected this.  The UK doesn’t want a hard border, but it also does not want Northern Ireland to have a different customs regime to the rest of the UK.  

The UK hasn’t come up with any other workable proposal in the eyes of the EU and hopes a future free trade agreement can be agreed which makes border checks unnecessary. 

But the EU wants a border guarantee now and won’t agree an exit agreement until an agreement is reached on the border which makes a no deal Brexit still a possibility.

In recent weeks, in response to the UK’s rejection, there have been suggestions that the EU was going to redraft part of its border proposals.  For example customs checks on the Irish border could take place on ships or at ports outside of Ireland (rather than on the border itself) with the support of technology.  It’s worth reminding ourselves that technology is only part of the solution – it cannot remove the need for checks.

In response to these measures, the UK has said that it doesn’t want EU officials working at UK ports. So it seems we are back to square one. The EU has warned that the UK’s proposals need to be reworked and the UK has said the EU needs to evolve its position too.  Are we in deadlock?

Speaking in Salzburg after a series of meetings, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered a somewhat downbeat assessment of the talks so far saying “I don’t think we’re any closer to a withdrawal agreement than we were in March. So I can't report any progress at this stage unfortunately, but we’ll keep working on it."

Read all of our Brexit updates and Back to Brexit Basics on the dedicated Brexit section of our website.