The Prime Minister of Ireland has raised the possibility of a ‘no deal’ in the Brexit discussions, warning that the United Kingdom has yet to propose something that “remotely approaches” a solution that is “workable and legally operable” to the border issue of Ireland.
Leo Varadkar said that if no “substantial” progress was made before the summit in Brussels next month there is a possibility of a no withdrawal agreement, with the United Kingdom crashing out on the terms of the WTO.
The intervention of the Taoiseach comes amid the continued deadlock in the Cabinet of Theresa May over how to approach the issue regarding customs and the border – with the absence of agreement among her own ministers being interpreted into a lack of progress in Brussels.
On the doorstep of an EU summit in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Varadkar said to reporters: “If we are not making real and substantial progress by June then we need to seriously question whether we’re going to have a Withdrawal Agreement at all.
“We stand by the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and the text of the protocol published in March as does the task force and the 27 member states that are behind us.”
This week, Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator of the EU told the foreign ministers of the EU27 during a meeting in Brussels that there had been no substantial progress on any of the main issues on Brexit since March, and that talks on the future trade relationship had not even begun beyond basic introductory talks.
Varadkar said: “If the UK wants to put forward alternatives to that whether alternative text to the backstop or an alternative future relationship between the UK and the EU, we’re willing to examine that.
“But we need to see it written down in black and white and know that it is workable and legally operable. And we’ve yet to see anything that remotely approaches that.”
Varadkar and Theresa May held a lunchtime bilateral meeting during the Sofia summit last Thursday. The main topic of the summit is the integration of the Western Balkans region. However, Brexit, trade, and the Iran nuclear deal have inevitably reared their heads on the sidelines of the meeting.
The Cabinet of the UK is divided between two options for the customs procedures post-Brexit, both of which were presented by the UK Government in a paper that was published in August 2017.
The European Union has already said that the plans of the UK for a so-called “customs partnership” are based on “magical thinking” and that a vaguer and separate proposal that involves a technology called MaxFac (“Maximum Facilitation”) would not hinder a hard border in Ireland.
Both sides say that they want to avoid the return of a hard border on Ireland, as secured by the Good Friday Agreement.
The EU and the UK also must agree on how the so-called “backstop” to the Ireland question – which comes into effect if no other solution was determined – would work in practice.
Even though the backstop was agreed in principle last December, both sides have now started to interpret the vague text of what they agreed in different ways. Downing Street says that the policy would keep entire Britain aligned inside the customs union to prevent a hard border on Ireland, while the EU has said that the agreement would keep Northern Ireland in the customs union, and establish customs checks at Irish seaports between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.