Theresa May tells EU leaders their plans must ‘evolve’ September 20th, 2018
Theresa May has said the EU must “evolve” its stance on the Irish border as she seeks to persuade fellow leaders about the viability of her Brexit plan.
The PM is using a dinner in Salzburg to make the case for her controversial Chequers strategy for future relations.
Before the event, she said it was the only credible plan to allay concerns on the Irish border and trade disruption.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is hosting the event, said both sides needed to make compromises.
The UK and EU both want to avoid a hard border – meaning any physical infrastructure like cameras or guard posts – between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but can’t agree on how.
Mrs May has previously rejected the EU’s “backstop” plan – which involves keeping Northern Ireland aligned with its trading rules – saying it would divide up the UK.
Ahead of the Salzburg summit, the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier said most checks could take place away from border areas, an apparent concession to the UK.
Addressing reporters as she arrived for dinner in the Austrian city, Mrs May welcomed what she said was the EU’s recognition its initial proposal were “unacceptable”.
“If we’re going to achieve a successful conclusion then, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to evolve its position too,” she said.
Why is the Irish border an issue?
After Brexit, the 310 mile border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will become the UK’s border with the EU.
At the moment, thousands of people cross it every day for both work and pleasure – as do goods, like food and medicines, being delivered across the two countries.
As part of the EU single market and customs union, these products do not need to be checked for customs and standards, but when the UK leaves these two arrangements, this all changes.
Nobody wants a hard border for the checks – in fact the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, got rid of security checks as part of the deal, and police in Northern Ireland have warned reinstating them could make crossings targets for violence.
But there is no agreement between the UK and EU, or between Leavers and Remainers, about the answer.
Privately, EU officials say those checks could be carried out by British or EU officials, or by health inspectors rather than customs officials, to “de-dramatise” the border issue.
Mrs May has insisted there needs to be “friction-free movement of goods”, with no customs or regulatory checks, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, in order to avoid a hard border there.
Six months to go
There are just over six months to go before the UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
Negotiations are at a critical stage, with both sides hoping for an agreement on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal and future trade relations by the start of November at the latest.
Ton van Grinsven
Business Development Director
Customs Support Group