EU steps up preparation for cliff edge Brexit amid stalemate on Irish border

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
A gloomy looking Theresa May arrives at the European Council in March (Getty)

The EU is stepping-up preparations for the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit over concerns about the lack of progress being made in talks over the Irish border issue.

It was hoped that “substantial progress” would have been made on a solution to avoiding a hard border by the European Council summit which Theresa May will attend next week.

But draft conclusions for the summit published tonight reveals EU leaders are likely to “express concern” to the Prime Minister that “no substantial progress has yet been achieved.”

The resolution calls for “intensified efforts” by negotiators to find a solution before the final deadline of October’s European Council summit.

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And the document finishes by calling on member states and stakeholders to “step up their work on preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes.”

The draft resolution overshadowed a joint statement published by the EU and UK negotiating teams tonight that reported on progress made on a diverse range of issues during the last few weeks.

Issues over customs, VAT, intellectual property, Euratom and the certification of goods have been ironed out, but they couldn’t report any progress on the Irish border.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “serious divergences remain” on the issue that risks bringing down the whole deal.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said: “There remains work to be done but we are taking important steps forward.”

The UK government hopes to avoid a hard border in Ireland by agreeing a trade deal that avoids border checks or through a so-called ‘cyber border.’

The Withdrawal Agreement will still require a ‘back stop’ solution to fall back on if that isn’t achieved by the time the transition period ends in December 2020.

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The Agreement currently states that Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the EU’s single market and customs union if no other way can be found to avoid a hard border.

But Theresa May has made clear that she – and her DUP partners – won’t accept that solution because it breaks up the UK’s single market.

The Prime Minister put forward an alternative backstop last week – a temporary customs union between the UK and EU.

But it was rejected by the EU, who said the plan would not actually avoid a hard border.

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