Sunday

17th Oct 2021

Real Brexit progress needed by October, Barnier says

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday (18 September) that real progress was needed on the Irish border issue with the UK by the October summit of EU leaders.

Barnier told press after a meeting with EU affairs ministers that the 18 October event will be "a moment of truth".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We shall see if the agreement we are hoping for is within our grasp," he said, amid talk in Brussels over a possible extraordinary summit in November to close the divorce deal ahead of the UK's departure next March.

EU council president Donald Tusk, in his invitation letter for a meeting of EU leaders In Salzburg on Thursday, said he would raise the issue of organising another summit.

Meanwhile, Barnier emphasised again the need to de-dramatise the Irish border issue.

Both the EU and the UK said they wanted to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as it becomes the union's external border after Brexit in order not to risk the fragile peace agreement achieved on the island in 1998.

But as the UK is also leaving the EU's single market and customs union, goods will have to be checked.

Last December, the UK signed up to the possibility of creating a so-called 'backstop' - a solution to effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU's customs union to avoid barriers at the border.

London, however, sees the backstop arrangements as undermining its constitutional order by creating customs checks in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

"What we are talking about here is not a border, not a land border, not a sea border," Barnier said.

"We respect the territorial integrity and constitutional order roof the UK, we will find a practical solution and operational," he added, saying the backstop was an insurance policy to avoid a hard border whatever the future relationship between the UK and the EU may be.

The French politician also said the EU is ready to improve its proposal on the backstop.

"We are clarifying which goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would need to be checked and where, when and by whom these checks could be performed," he said.

"We can also clarify that most checks can take place away from the border, at the company premises or in the market," he added.

The divorce deal needs to be agreed soon to avoid the UK crashing out from the EU next March without an agreement on the withdrawal and on a transitional period.

The deal also needs to be approved by the UK and EU parliament before March.

Ireland's deputy prime minister and foreign minister Simon Coveney in Brussels on Tuesday also urged the UK to swiftly agree on a "legally watertight" solution on the border.

"We want to be in a position where EU leaders can be making real decisions in October," he said.

British prime minister Theresa May's Conservatives are holding their annual congress on 3 October, with the party deeply divided on how close the UK's relationship with the EU should be.

"Nothing can happen before that," an EU official said.

But May, for her part, also wrote an op-ed in German daily Die Welt on Wednesday ahead of informal talks with EU leaders in Salzburg, Austria, later the same day.

"The relationship between the UK and the EU will change fundamentally with Brexit, but it is very important to me that we have the strongest possible economic and security partnership, even after we leave," she said.

She would "not allow the United Kingdom [to] break up" via the Irish border deal, she added, however.

Defending her own solution to the problem - to adopt EU rules on goods but not services and to use high-tech gadgets, instead of physical checks, to screen goods on the Irish border - she said: "It is argued that one can not separate goods and services, but no free trade agreement that the EU has ever concluded treats goods and services equally".

'Dealbreaker' issues multiply in Brexit talks

As chief negotiators Raab and Barnier meet again in Brussels on Friday, UK demands for guarantees on the future relationship have put chances of no-deal Brexit over 50 percent.

Brexit deal 'within reach' says Barnier

Michel Barnier said the UK and the EU can close the withdrawal deal next week - if British prime minister Theresa May agrees to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union.

News in Brief

  1. Poland legalises refugee pushbacks
  2. Report: China's Xi to snub UK climate summit
  3. Norway killings 'appeared to be' Islamist 'terrorism'
  4. Le Pen vows to 'dismantle' wind-power plants
  5. Slovenia PM tweets antisemitic conspiracy theory
  6. Italy sentences ship captain for Libya pushback
  7. Polish PM and von der Leyen to clash in Brussels next week
  8. MEPs call for improved roaming rules

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge Sassoli to sue EU Commission on rule of law
  2. MEPs seek EU law on bogus anti-media litigation
  3. Africa seeks EU help on global vaccine-waiver
  4. Giant of 20th century European design recognised by EU
  5. Italy on edge as neo-fascists stir violence
  6. Gas-price spike will backfire on industry, energy guru says
  7. Scientists raise alarm on Greenland's ice-sheet loss
  8. EU calls for ban on Arctic oil and gas drilling

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us