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Brexit trade talks slowed by Irish border fight

Brexit trade talks slowed by Irish border fight

DUBLIN: The U.K. and European Union will formally discuss their post-Brexit relationship for the first time next week, but EU officials don’t expect serious talks about trade to start until June.

 The problem of how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland when it becomes the U.K.’s border with the EU is far from being solved. The European side wants it sorted before talks on trade get going in earnest, according to three officials in the process. That and other outstanding divorce issues will take up most of the negotiating time over the next two months, they said.
 The U.K. sees things differently. British officials point out that chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis agreed last month to move on to discussing the future relationship as soon as possible.
 A round of talks is scheduled for next week, according to an EU official. As well as the future relationship, negotiators will look at the Irish border and other outstanding divorce issues such as treaty disputes and intellectual property.That amounts to erecting a border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, which May considers unacceptable.

The problem would disappear if the government decided to keep all of the U.K. in the customs union. While May has repeatedly said the U.K. will leave the trading bloc as it’s a key demand of Brexit supporters in her government, some in her government think she may be willing to change tack.