EU 'May' respond positively to Brexit offer, feels PM
Gothenburg: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday she hoped the EU would respond "positively" to her proposals for Brexit, as the bloc's leaders warned time was running out to move to trade talks in December.
May will hold talks with EU President Donald Tusk, and has already met with her Irish, Swedish and Polish counterparts at a summit on European social reforms in Gothenburg as a deadline looms for Britain to make enough progress to move on to trade talks in December.
"I look forward to the European Union responding positively to that so we can move forward together and ensure that we can get the best possible arrangements for the future that will be good for people in the United Kingdom and across the remaining EU27," May said.
May repeated that "we will honour our commitments" on the exit bill the EU says Britain must pay, as she promised in a speech in Florence in September.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters Britain needed to do more if it hopes to unlock the the next phase of Brexit negotiations, on future trade relations and a transition deal, at a summit in Brussels on December 14.
"The clock is ticking. I hope that we will be able to come to an agreement as far as the divorce is concerned at the December council (summit) but work has still to be done," Juncker told reporters.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that Britain had just two weeks to meet the bloc's conditions on the divorce bill, citizens' rights and the Irish border if it wanted an agreement at the next EU summit to unlock the next phase of talks.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar meanwhile struck a firm line, insisting there had to be progress on Dublin's demands that Brexit should create no "hard border" between British- ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
He has set Theresa May a one-month deadline to explain how she will avoid a damaging hard border with Northern Ireland, or he will block Brexit trade talks.
Leo Varadkar dismissed Ms May's claim that negotiations on the future land border are "almost there" as "wishful thinking", at a breakfast meeting.
Instead, he told the UK prime minister that she must set out detailed proposals that can form part of the conclusions of the crunch December EU summit.
Without that reassurance, Ireland would block any attempt to move the negotiations onto future trade and a transitional period to cushion Brexit – the Holy Grail for the UK.
"They want us to take a leap in the dark and we are not prepared to do that," one Irish source told The Independent.
"The British want to give the impression that we are all on the same page, that it is just a question of finding a form of words, but that is certainly not the case.
"We need an explicit commitment, confidence about the impact on the island of Ireland, before the talks can progress to phase two." The stance, following talks between the two leaders at a summit in Sweden, is a stark reminder that the so-called "divorce bill" is not the only remaining obstacle to breaking the deadlock in the negotiations.
However, No 10 insisted there had been "constructive discussions on Brexit" and that both leaders anticipated "further progress" before the EU council.
"On Northern Ireland, the PM was clear that the Belfast agreement must be at the heart of our approach and that Northern Ireland's unique circumstances demand specific solutions," a spokesman said.
"The PM said it was important to protect progress made in Northern Ireland over recent years. Both leaders agreed to work together to find solutions which ensure there is no return to the borders of the past."
British negotiators had, until recently, hoped that the vexed issue of the Irish border could be "parked" until trade talks begin, because they are so closely linked.
However, a leaked European Commission earlier this month showed that Dublin has Brussels staunch support in ensuring the controversy remains a priority.
It made clear that, in order to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, the Brexit divorce deal must respect "the integrity of the internal market and the customs union", with Ireland remaining a member of both.
That meant the UK, to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland, must also remain part of the customs union – something London has categorically ruled out, at least long term.
Previously, Brussels has dismissed the UK's proposals to use untested new technology to police a light-touch Irish border as "magical thinking".