Theresa May told to 'take control' over Northern Ireland

Theresa May told to 'take control' over Northern Ireland

On the Irish border backstop - where both the European Union and United Kingdom have undertaken to avoid the re-introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Ireland whatever their post-Brexit relationship looks like - the Commission, I'm told, is working on rewording the protocol in the declared hope that will make it easier for team Theresa May to sign up to.

With a little more than eight months to go before Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019, May's government, parliament, the public and businesses remain deeply divided over what form Brexit should take.

'The ball is now in the EU's court, and don't get me wrong, there will be plenty more negotiations, I've made that clear, but if they show us the same level of ambition, energy, pragmatism, this deal gets done in 12 weeks'.

However, Barnier did not seem willing to bail her out entirely during his statement highlighting a number of issues which the bloc has with her plan. "The problem is not that we failed to make the case for a free trade agreement of the kind spelled out at Lancaster House - we haven't even tried".

He indicated the European Union was ready to amend its "backstop" proposals for the Irish border, which have become the biggest stumbling block in talks.

Earlier Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said Ireland is open to the possibility of an alternative backstop deal, as long as it is better than the EU's current proposal and is legally operable.

"We have to sit down with the British and find out how much room of manoeuvre they have", the source added.

"There will be a deal if there is an agreement on the backstop", said Mr Barnier. We are doing that work.

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However she also admitted quitting without an agreement would not be an "optimal solution".

Speaking in Belfast, Mrs May fired a warning at her critics from the hard Brexit wing of the Conservative Party, accusing them of being ready to "betray" the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In a withering assessment of Mrs May's plan on Friday, Barnier ripped up her proposals on customs arrangements, including collecting tariffs and resolving the issue of the Irish border.

Recalling that at the end of the Second World War Sir Winston Churchill had said that without Northern Ireland "the light which now shines so strongly throughout the world would have been quenched", Mrs May went on to speak about the future, saying that "the greatest strength of our Union is its potential", with what she described as an "outward-looking United Kingdom after Brexit".

"The protection of the peace process and upholding our binding commitments in the Belfast Agreement are grave responsibilities", she said.

A You Gov survey for The Sunday Times suggested only 16 per cent of voters think Mrs May is handling negotiations well, while 34 per cent believe former foreign secretary Boris Johnson would do a better job.

Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, the return of any form of physical checkpoints or other infrastructure would be "an alien concept".

This would be based on the Commission's proposal but "not necessarily" stick precisely to the outline released in March, he said.

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