May 13, 2018
FRENCH Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called on the European Union to set a “final deadline” for the UK to finalise its plans on the ongoing Irish border issue, which is threatening to delay Brexit negotiations.

The UK is committed to avoiding a reimplementation of a hard border with checkpoints between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which all sides regard as being vital to upholding the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
Speaking to the press in Dublin prior to a meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Mr Le Drian said: "What we want is for things to go quickly and a June deadline chosen as the final deadline otherwise the withdrawal agreement will be more complicated.
“The June deadline is the deadline that must be seen as the ultimate deadline.”
Despite Brexit Secretary David Davis previously describing the EU’s demand for sufficient progress to be made on the issue by June as an “artificial deadline”, Mr Le Drian said the issue could not be delayed.
Mr Coveney suggested that a Customs Partnership between the EU and Britain could solve the issue surrounding the Northern Irish border.
France gives Brexit ULTIMATUM to finalise Irish border issue by NEXT MONTH
He noted that the Irish Government was flexible on how Theresa May resolved the issue, but insisted they would not accept any arrangement that could lead to the reimplementation of a hard border.
He said: “We are happy to be flexible if the British government comes forward with some new thinking, but what we are not flexible on is the outcome.”
The Customs Partnership option would see the UK collecting import tariffs on behalf of the EU, but this option was previously rejected by six of Mrs May’s 11 ministers in her Brexit Cabinet.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson commented on the Customs Partnership option, saying: “If you have the new customs partnership, you have a crazy system whereby you end up collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the UK frontier.
“If the EU decides to impose punitive tariffs on something the UK wants to bring in cheaply there’s nothing you can do.”
France gives Brexit ULTIMATUM to finalise Irish border issue by NEXT MONTH
Henry Newman, the Director of think tank Open Europe, also criticised the option, saying: “Customs Partnership could entail the UK paying very large sums of money to the EU in the long-term - something the Government has so-far ruled out.”
Commenting on the deadlock in Cabinet surrounding the UK’s future customs arrangement with the EU, Mrs May said she had proposed various options and that the Government would continue to work on them during the upcoming negotiations.
Writing in The Sunday Times, she said: "Any agreements must create as little friction as possible for trade.
“We must not constrain our ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world by being bound into a customs union."
She noted the final deal must protect the UK’s constitutional and economic integrity and honour Northern Ireland’s peace agreement.
This comes after DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party would not accept any Brexit outcome which could lead to regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
However pro-Brexit ministers, including Michael Gove, prefer the ‘maximum facilitation’ option, which would involve using technology and a ‘trusted fader’ plan to reduce post-Brexit customs checks by monitoring the border and goods passing through it.
Critics have nevertheless argued the implementation of this system and the development of the necessary technology would take too long and would run the risk of re-implementing a certain degree of border friction.
If the UK is unable to finalise its customs arrangement prior to the Brexit deadline in March 2019, the UK may then be obliged to follow the EU’s Irish border ‘backstop’ option.
This would force Northern Ireland to remain in ‘full alignment’ with the EU, and follow the regulations of the Customs Union and Single Market in order to avoid the reimplementation of a hard border.
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