BRUSSELS :European Union negotiators are looking at ways to promise Britain a customs deal that could stretch Brussels’ Brexit red lines but might break a deadlock over the Irish border, EU sources close to the talks have told Reuters.
Accounts of how British and EU negotiators came close to a deal on Oct. 13 focus on how Prime Minister Theresa May balked at an EU demand for a “backstop” clause. This could put Northern Ireland in a special relationship with the EU that might distance it from the British mainland to avoid putting up customs posts on Britain’s only EU land border, with Ireland.
But as the two sides try to rebuild momentum following a Brussels summit last week, the readiness of EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s team in that outline deal to soften their refusal to pre-empt the outcome of later talks on a future EU-UK trade pact may help in unlocking an acceptable package.
EU diplomats briefed on the negotiations said a vital part of a complex package was to “anchor” a reference in the legally-binding withdrawal treaty to May’s proposal to keep the whole of the United Kingdom in a customs partnership with the EU — thus avoiding special treatment for Northern Ireland.