The EU will refuse Britain’s demand for talks on a post-Brexit transition and future trade pact if Ireland is not satisfied with London’s offer on border arrangements with Northern Ireland, European Council President Donald Tusk said yesterday.
Mr Tusk, who will chair a crunch summit of European Union leaders on the issue in two weeks, was speaking to reporters after meeting Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin.
“Before proposing guidelines on transition and future relations to the leaders, I will consult the taoiseach (Varadkar) if the UK offer is sufficient for the Irish government,” Mr Tusk said.
“Let me say very clearly: If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU. I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand.”
“This is why the key to the UK’s future lies – in some ways – in Dublin, at least as long as Brexit negotiations continue.”
A former Polish prime minister, Mr Tusk noted that he had given British Prime Minister Theresa May a deadline of Monday to make a “final offer” on the Irish border before leaders decide whether there is “sufficient progress” on a divorce settlement to merit opening talks on the future relationship.
He insisted there could be no division between the other 26 EU members and Ireland: “The EU is fully behind you and your request that there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit,” he said. “The Irish request is the EU’s request.”
He added: “The UK started Brexit, and now it is their responsibility to propose a credible commitment to do what is necessary to avoid a hard border.
Theresa May is hoping EU leaders will give the go-ahead for the second phase of the negotiations, including talks on a free trade deal, to begin at the European Council summit on December 14-15.
She is due to travel to Brussels on Monday for talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the hope of securing a declaration that “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues like the financial settlement and the Irish border.
The leaders of the remaining 27 EU states, including Irish premier Mr Varadkar, have a veto on triggering the second phase of talks, meaning Mrs May must be sure of support from Dublin for progress to be made.
Mr Tusk confirmed the Irish would be consulted on whether the UK’s offer was sufficient.
He added: “If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland it will also be unacceptable for the EU.
“I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand but such is the logic behind the fact that Ireland is an EU member while the UK is leaving.”
The free-flowing and invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic since the 1998 peace deal was enabled through the UK and Ireland’s joint membership of the EU and its single market.
When the UK departs it raises the prospect of some form of customs barrier or else continued harmonisation on issues like duties on goods.
Ireland’s proposal for no checkpoints could mean Northern Ireland sticking to the EU rulebook while the rest of the UK diverged, a red line for the Democratic Unionists who are propping up the UK Government.