Overnight talks have failed to produce a breakthrough deal on the Northern Ireland Border.
Sources in Dublin confirmed on Monday confirmed no deal had been reached during talks between Irish, British and EU officials. The source said this morning: the “ingredients (for a deal are) there for the summit but no deal as yet”.
The Cabinet is holding a special meeting this morning but it is unlikely to have a deal on the Border to consider.
In advance of a crucial meeting in Brussels today between the British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator in Brussels, the Government wanted Britain to declare it attaches the same importance to avoiding a hard Border, even if it exits the EU without a deal, as it does to its red-line issues on leaving the single market and customs union.
The Border is one of three key issues to be resolved as part of the first phase of the Brexit talks. It is understood proposals on the other two issues; the “divorce bill” and citizens’ rights, were agreed over the weekend. .
Ireland is also seeking clarification on the transition phase, protections for the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area, as well as ensuring there is no regulatory divergence between North and South in the final Brexit deal.
Britain favours a two-year transition deal with no effective change on current arrangements, but sources said other European countries would want some restrictions, such as on financial services, to show there are consequences to leaving the EU.
Final British offer
During the Brussels meeting Mrs May will table the final British offer on the three areas – the divorce settlement, citizens’ rights and Irish specific issues – in which “sufficient progress” will need to be made in order to proceed to the next phase of talks.
The British cabinet is also expected to meet this morning in advance of the talks.
Government sources were pessimistic of an outcome being reached today, with one senior figure putting the chances of a deal at “less than 50 per cent”.
However, it is being claimed a deal could still be reached by the time of the European Council meeting on December 14th and 15th, when EU leaders will make the final call on whether to allow talks proceed to the second phase, focusing on a post-Brexit transition period and future trading relationship.
Ireland is sticking to its position that there should be no “regulatory divergence” between the North and the Republic, and this is understood to be the main point of negotiation.
Anything less than a commitment to no regulatory divergence, it is argued, will mean the return of a hard Border.
Sources said the exact wording of the deal was not as important as what it would actually contain. This is a commitment to the same regulations applying across the island of Ireland even in a potential “no-deal” Brexit, which means the Border would not be tied up in contentious phase two talks.
No hard Border
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly pointed out Britain has already ruled out membership of the single market and customs union. Sources said another parameter must be that there should be no hard Border, even if Britain left the EU without a deal.
Any Border arrangement would be published at the European Council meeting later this month.
The agreement being worked on is said to be only a few pages long and will focus on principles rather than specific details. It is widely accepted details can only be worked out in the talks on the future EU-UK trade deal.