EU ‘could reject Northern Ireland border proposals’

Brussels could reject Theresa May’s plan to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic post-Brexit, according to Ireland’s deputy prime minister.

Mrs May is adamant that a soft border can be maintained on the island of Ireland through technological solutions and placing no new restrictions on the cross-frontier trade from smaller businesses.

But Simon Coveney has cast doubt on the feasibility of this, saying he is “not sure that the European Union will be able to support” the plan because of worries about safeguarding the integrity of the bloc’s single market.

“While of course we will explore and look at all of the proposed British solutions, they are essentially a starting point in negotiations as opposed to an end point,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

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Mr Coveney said that if an agreement cannot be struck, the backup plan of full British alignment with the EU’s customs union and single market rules that Mrs May has “committed clearly” to would have to be enforced.

The comments come on the heels of Mrs May’s keynote Brexit speech on Friday, which was intended to flesh out her vision for leaving the EU.

In it, she rejected as “unacceptable” proposals from Brussels to keep customs union arrangements in Northern Ireland.

The PM accepted the UK’s “responsibility” to help keep a soft border with the Republic – setting out in detail how she believed this could be achieved through technological means or a broader trade deal.

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But Mr Coveney said: “This isn’t a question of either side wanting to put up borders, but if you have to protect a functioning single market, just the same way Britain wants to protect its own single market, well then you have to understand that if goods move from one customs union to another then there needs to be some checks unless there is some mechanism that is negotiated and put in place that prevents that.”

Reacting to the Irish deputy PM’s comments, a senior British Cabinet minister said the UK’s border plans could be altered to placate EU concerns.

When asked if the backup border plan was inevitable, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I’m much less pessimistic than you are, clearly we are at the start of a negotiating period and will want to sit down with our EU partners and work through where their concerns, whether legal or technical, are and see how we might together address this.”

Also speaking to the BBC on Sunday, the Prime Minister said her overall Brexit plan for Britain to align with EU rules to allow for “frictionless” trade while retaining the leeway to diverge from them was “ambitious” and “credible”.

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Mrs May said voters had grown weary of politicians arguing over the issue and so wanted to be “straight with people” in the high-profile address.

But Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell told Sky News’ Sunday with Paterson show that the speech was more about trying to keep the PM’s Tory party together rather than addressing the nation at large.

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