The Irish border has become a major sticking point in finishing the first round of UK-EU negotiations as British negotiators attempt to unlock the next round of Brexit talks.
The UK are EU are scheduled to agree a text later today. However, Brussels sources say despite progress made over the last few weeks there has been little agreement on key issues including the Irish border and EU citizens’ rights.
The border paradox
The issue of the Irish border is particularly pressing as earlier this week Donald Tusk president of the European Council declared that Ireland would have the final say on any Brexit deal – effectively giving the South a veto over negotiations.
Speaking on Thursday Tusk said: “I came to Dublin to reassure the Taoiseach and all the Irish people that the EU is fully behind you and your request that there should be no ‘hard’ border on the island of Ireland after Brexit; the Irish request is the EU’s request.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadker has said the UK must give guarantee there would be no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland before negotiations can move on.
However, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs warned a separate deal keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union could see the DUP withdraw from its confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party – keeping British Prime Minister Theresa May in power.
Businesses in both Northern Ireland and the Republic have been pushing for more clarity on what form the border with take post-Brexit.
The outcome will be heavily anticipated by many of the island’s larger agri-food businesses who operate on both sides of the border.
Concerns had previously been raised about the impact on the dairy sector with around a third of Northern Ireland milk transported south of the border.
Brussels, Dublin and London
In Brussels today, May is meeting with European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, hoping to conclude phase one of the Brexit talks.
In London, MPs will vote in the House of Commons debate this afternoon on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
This morning in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varaker held a special cabinet meeting where he; Tanaiste Simon Coveney; and Helen McEntee, Minister for European Affairs, updated government ministers on talks.
Writing online, Varadaker described said the talks were at a “crucial phase of the negotiations”.
But despite progress in the talks, not everyone is for moving forwards with Brexit.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed on BBC Radio 4 that he was working to reverse Brexit because of the myriad of false promises, including that £350 million would go to the NHS every week post-Brexit.
And Scottish Labour MPs have been advised to “vote against” May’s EU Withdrawal Bill for the sake of British unity.