Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney today warned that No Deal would mean ‘civil unrest’ as he poured cold water on ‘spin’ about progress in talks.
Mr Coveney admitted the ‘mood music’ had improved, but warned the EU still had not seen any ‘serious proposals’ from the UK – saying the two sides were ‘not close to a deal’.
He also delivered a grim portrayal of the consequences of crashing out, insisting it was ‘lose-lose’ and there would be problems ‘managing civil unrest around the border’.
The intervention came after Jean-Claude Juncker raised hopes by saying Britain and the EU ‘can have a deal’.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has arrived in Brussels for talks with negotiator Michel Barnier this morning as pressure ramps up.
The Pound rose to its highest level for months against the euro and US dollar in the wake of the optimistic words from the commission president.
Simon Coveney (pictured in Cork last week) admitted the ‘mood music’ had improved, but warned the EU still had not seen any ‘serious proposals’ from the UK – saying the two sides were ‘not close to a deal’
Boris Johnson (pictured at No10 today) has insisted he is working flat-out to get a Brexit deal
Mr Juncker told Sky: ‘I don’t have an erotic relationship to the backstop. If the results are there, I don’t care about it’
In his interview last night, Mr Juncker said the hated Irish backstop could be scrapped as long as ‘all’ the bloc’s demands are met some other way.
He said his lunch with Boris Johnson this week had been ‘positive’ and the idea of keeping Northern Ireland in step with EU food and agriculture rules, while the UK diverges, was ‘the arrival point’ of a deal.
However, officials in Brussels were less positive after being handed details of the UK’s proposals on paper for the first time, briefing that the process appeared to be ‘going backwards’.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Coveney said: ‘There are serious problems that arise because of the change in approach by the British Prime Minister – asking to remove a very significant section within the Withdrawal Agreement without any serious proposals as to how you solve those problems is not going to be the basis for an agreement.
‘That’s why I think there is an onus on the British Government to come forward with alternative arrangements – if they have them – which can resolve the Irish border question.’
He complained that Ireland was being asked to replace a ‘guarantee around that border question’ with a promise that ‘somehow we’ll do our best’.
He said: ‘We want to find a solution, we want to get a deal, and we want to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly and sensible manner, but we cannot allow Ireland to be the collateral damage of that.
‘I think for Britain to ask us to do that is a very unreasonable request, and it won’t be the basis of a deal.’
Mr Barclay’s department said he will meet Mr Barnier to ‘take stock’ following discussions between the PM’s Europe adviser David Frost and Taskforce 50 – the EU unit dealing with the UK’s departure.
Yesterday, Mr Barnier spoke to Labour MPs Caroline Flint and Stephen Kinnock, who are key in cross-party efforts to get a deal through Parliament.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (pictured in Brussels today) is holding another round of talks with Michel Barnier
Mr Barnier (in Strasbourg this week)has struck a significantly less optimistic tone than Mr Juncker on Brexit
Mr Kinnock told BBC’s Newsnight that they left feeling ‘relatively, cautiously optimistic’ after the Brussels meeting because of mounting pressure on the PM.
He said that the negotiator made it clear that a Northern Ireland-only backstop remained on the table.
The EU’s original proposal, which was objected to by the DUP, would see Northern Ireland remaining in the EU’s single market and customs union, but give Great Britain the freedom to strike trade deals.
Downing Street had said the UK has shared a series of ‘confidential technical non-papers’ which reflect the ideas being put forward.
Previously documents had been shown to Brussels officials but then taken back at the end of meetings out of fears they would be leaked.
But a ‘non-paper’ is not a formal Government position and falls far short of what has been demanded by Brussels.
The PM was under pressure from Finnish prime minister Antti Rinne to formally outline his plans to the EU by the end of September.
But the Government insisted Mr Johnson will not be bound by an ‘artificial deadline’ to produce formal written proposals.