Brexit breakthrough likely as May arrives for key lunch in Brussels


BRUSSELSA breakthrough in Brexit talks appeared imminent as Theresa May arrived in Brussels for a key lunch after which both the European Union (EU) and the UK plan to make a joint statement.

The pound rose after it emerged that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told European lawmakers that a positive outcome is likely. Philippe Lamberts, a member of Parliament for the Green party, was present at the briefing and reported that Barnier told them both sides were headed for a deal.

If the lunch goes well, the joint statement will refer to the three main divorce issues: The Irish border, the rights of EU citizens in the UK after the split and the financial settlement, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Irish government believes a deal has been done on the border, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Still, British officials continued to strike a cautious note. The UK leader sat down to eat with European Commission (EC) President Jean Claude Juncker and Barnier with the aim of carving an agreement in time for a European leaders summit on Dec 14. The EU had set yesterday as the deadline for May to come up with concessions on the main divorce issues if she wants talks to move on to trade by year-end.

EU President Donald Tusk said both sides are “getting closer to sufficient progress” that is required for talks to moveontotrade—astheUK wants.

Lamberts said there was a proposal on how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland once Northern Ireland quits the EU along with the rest of the UK. The invisible border on the island now is only possible because of the EU’s single market and customs union, which the UK plans to leave. Rules would remain aligned on both sides of the line so that a border wouldn’t be needed, he said.

In more position news, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is “on board” with the UK’s draft proposal for an agreement on the Irish border, Sky News reported in a tweet, citing an unidentified senior government official. The DUP, which props up May’s government, opposes any measures that would separate it from mainland Britain.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was scheduled to make a statement on Brexit at 2:30pm yesterday.

Irish broadcaster RTE said the exact wording allowed some room for manoeuvre: “In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will ensure that there continues to be no divergence from those rules of the internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation and protection” of the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

Barnier’s office declined to comment. — Bloomberg