Brexit talks could slip past hoped-for October deadline, Dominic Raab hints

Roman Schwartz
September 3, 2018

The interview gives a good indicitation of what issues Barnier will discuss with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab when they meet tomorrow in Brussels.

One of the biggest sticking points is the future regulation of the border between the Republic of Ireland, an European Union member, and Northern Ireland, which will leave the European Union as part of the United Kingdom.

Progress on the Withdrawal Agreement, which is 80% complete, is being held back primarily by a failure to agree on a backstop solution to avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

The European Union's Michel Barnier says it's "possible" to get an agreement on Britain's withdrawal from the EU in time for a summit of the bloc's leaders in Brussels from October 18 to 19, but added that a delay into November was also possible.

The EU and United Kingdom agreed a Joint Report last December which provides for a "backstop" to take effect if no other solutions were found to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Politicians fear that a return to customs checks and police on the land frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would revive memories of violence in the past, potentially endangering the peace. "Theresa May has committed herself to this, as have all the leaders of the European Union institutions... it's a matter of some urgency".

"It's essential to conclude the negotiations".

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Barnier added he was determined to reach an agreement ahead of the European council meeting in October, but both sides have now conceded that there is flexibility for further negotiations, with an extraordinary summit expected in November.

"The backstop is critical", he insisted.

Raab said: "On Northern Ireland we remain committed to giving effect to the joint report, continuing the work on the potential solutions, working with Michel and his team on some of the issues he's raised and continuing to drive that forward".

The backstop is a safety net agreed in December that guarantees an invisible border, though there is no agreement to this date on how it will work.

"Our responsibility is to be prepared for any and all the options", Mr Barnier told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday.

After his latest talks with Barnier, Britain's Brexit minister Dominic Raab said he was "stubbornly optimistic" and "as confident as before, if not more" that there would be a deal.

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