Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that Ireland’s position on the border has not changed and that we cannot be expected to take a ‘leap in the dark’ and move onto phase two of Brexit negotiations
Theresa May has an unhappy history of dinners with Jean Claude Juncker, each one leaving a bitter aftertaste in the form of a detailed, unflattering leak to a German newspaper. British officials hope their lunch in Brussels next Monday will be an altogether happier affair, with the British prime minister persuading the European Commission president it is time to move Brexit negotiations on to the next stage.
British negotiators insist that Monday’s lunch is not the deadline for agreement ahead of a meeting of European Union leaders on December 14th. But EU officials say they must be persuaded well in advance of the summit that Britain has made sufficient progress on the three priority issues of money, citizens’ rights – and Ireland.
“What nobody here will accept is for Mrs May to arrive in Brussels on the eve of the summit with a large bag of unwashed clothes that she will empty out on the floor for us all to sort out,” said one senior European diplomat this week.
The real deadline may come on Wednesday, when the European Commission will meet in the Berlaymont building to decide whether its members believe sufficient progress has been made. They will then brief the member states on their recommendation ahead of a meeting of EU ambassadors the following week, shortly before the summit itself.
Britain and the EU have made good progress on two of the three policy areas – money and citizens’ rights – but Ireland remains a problem that could block progress. The cost of failure for Britain, and particularly for May, could be calamitous, with potentially severe knock-on consequences for other EU member states, and particularly for Ireland.
May would come under tremendous pressure from within her party and from the pro-Brexit press to respond to failure at the summit by simply walking away from the negotiations
A successful summit this month would not only allow Brexit talks to move on to the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU, but open the way for a transitional deal that would maintain the status quo for at least two years after Britain leaves the union in March 2019. British business needs confirmation of the transition deal by early in the new year to make investment decisions in time for Brexit.