Brexit talks in crisis as EU blasts UK's 'fantasy' solutions to Irish border

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
British and EU flags flying outside the Commission headquarters in Brussels (Reuters)

The EU has dismissed Theresa May’s plan to solve the Irish border issue as a “fantasy” after the two sides failed to make real progress in the latest round of Brexit talks.

UK and EU officials held talks for three days in Brussels this week in a bid to make the progress on outstanding issues, notably how to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

But a briefing given on the talks by a senior EU official tonight revealed how far apart the two sides remain just four weeks before the next deadline for talks.

The official said they were “concerned” that the UK government was not prepared to take responsibility for the consequences of Brexit.

“I have the impression that the UK thinks everything has to change on the EU’s side so that everything can stay the same for the UK,” they told journalists.

The most substantial difference comes on how to avoid a hard border in Ireland if the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union.

Theresa May wants to resolve the issue through a special customs agreement for the whole of the UK that would render border checks unnecessary.

That was ruled out by the EU official, who said any solution would have to be “Ireland specific” before adding: “We have to do away with the fantasy that there is an all-UK solution.”

EU leaders have said they want to see “substantial progress” on the Irish border issue before the EU leaders’ summit on June 28 and 29, but that has been thrown into doubt by the extent to disagreements this week.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for the Irish border have been dismissed by the EU (Getty)

“Progress at this stage seems elusive and substantive progress even more so,” said the EU official.

The two sides also seem some distant apart on security cooperation after Brexit – particularly over the Galileo satellite navigation system.

The UK wants full access to the system after Brexit and today said they would claim back their £1bn investment if they did not receive it.

The EU says the UK will maintain access to the encrypted signal used by the military with certain guarantees, but not the “propriety information” that would allow the UK to control the system.

That would breach the “sovereignty” of the EU, said the official, adding: “I would expect the UK to have an understanding of this.”

The EU has now ruled out UK participation in the European Arrest Warrant, saying membership was not possible for countries which did not abide by EU procedures and standards.

“These are not bureaucratic issues,” said the EU official. “We are talking here about the lives and the liberty of people.”

The official said the cooperation on all these areas could continue but not in the same way as now and appealed to the UK government to change their negotiating stance.

They said: “The sooner we can start talking about these instruments rather than chasing the fantasy of denying the consequences of Brexit in a given policy area, the sooner we can get to solutions.”

A UK government source told the Guardian: “This is what they do every time. As usual we’ve heard it all before. There’s nothing they’ve said which concerns us.”

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