The UK’s Brexit Secretary has threatened the EU that it will be forced to order the Irish government to reinstate the border with the North in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was said to be furious after Dominic Raab made the threat in a highly charged meeting in Brussels last month, according to a senior European source.
Despite Mr Raab telling MPs in the UK this week to be in “no doubt that we are making good progress”, sources on both sides of the negotiating table have said that on the substantive outstanding questions, including the Irish backstop, progress has been “close to zero”.
EU sources have accused the UK of “stalling” on the fundamental question of the Irish border, refusing a request from Mr Barnier to present fresh text on the backstop, or engage in detail on the question of how handle regulatory alignment between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr Raab’s challenge to Mr Barnier over the border reflects thinking in Britain that in the event of a ‘no deal’ the EU will have to choose between forcing Leo Varadkar’s government into erecting a border that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement, or imposing customs checks between Ireland and the EU.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government will “stand our ground” on insisting there is no hard border in the wake of Brexit amid suggestions the UK and Germany are willing to ‘fudge’ on other key demands to get a deal.
Mr Varadkar said there has been “a fair bit of kite-flying” and “posturing” in recent weeks, when asked about reports that the two countries were willing to accept less detailed agreement on the UK’s future economic and trade ties.
“We need that assurance that there won’t be a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until there is an alternative arrangement in place,” he said. The principle stands and we can’t compromise on that.”
Separately, in a hard-hitting speech to be delivered today, Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan is scathingly critical of some of the “ultra-Brexiteers” – including Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson – whom he compares with US President Donald Trump.