Theresa May will learn if trade talks can begin at make-or-break Brexit meeting

Posted by Geoff Bishop.

Written by Kathleen Nutt.

THERESA May will today learn if her proposals on the Irish border and other Brexit “divorce” issues are sufficient for trade talks to begin.

The UK Prime Minister is meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, with trade talks scheduled to take place later this month.

A key stumbling block is the Irish border. The Irish Government want concrete assurances there will be no return to a hard border, while the DUP, which gives May a parliamentary majority, insist they would oppose anything which treats Northern Ireland any differently from other parts of the UK .

Irish ministers have suggested Northern Ireland could stay in the customs union, preventing the need for a hard border, but the plan is unacceptable for the DUP as May says the UK will be out of the customs union and single market.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister said yesterday that his country had “no desire” to delay progress on the Brexit negotiations.

Simon Coveney said his government did not want to veto the talks, after Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned he was prepared to stand firm on the Irish border issue.

Coveney, who was appointed the new deputy in the Dail on Thursday, said Ireland wants a solution on the border that “involves all of the United Kingdom acting as one”.

Asked whether the Irish Government were prepared to use a “veto” over the Brexit talks, he said: “We certainly don’t want to be vetoing anything – I mean the Irish Government, just like the British Government, wants to be able to move the Brexit process on to phase two and we want to be able to provide the kind of certainty that many businesses are calling for in Britain and Ireland – and indeed in other parts of the European Union.

“So there is no desire in Ireland to delay this process, but at the same time we have a responsibility as a government to represent the interests on the island of Ireland – north and south – and let’s not forget that next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which is the basis for the peace process.

“And we believe that as an island, Ireland is uniquely vulnerable and exposed to a potential bad outcome from Brexit. That is why we are looking for more progress than we have in terms of understanding the border issues, in particular on the island of Ireland, and the north and south co-operation that has created a normality – which is a hugely positive thing.”

The leaders of the remaining 27 EU states, including Irish premier Varadkar, have a veto on triggering the second phase of talks, meaning the Prime Minister must be sure of support from Dublin for progress to be made.

European Council President Donald Tusk last month gave May until today to come up with plans on the Irish border, the financial settlement and citizens’ rights.