EU am­bas­sadors gather amid Brexit deal push

The Palm Beach Post - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Raf Casert, Gre­gory Katz and Jill Law­less

BRUS­SELS — Bri­tain’s Brexit sec­re­tary and the top Euro­pean Union ne­go­tia­tor met for sur­prise talks Sun­day and am­bas­sadors from the 27 re­main­ing EU coun­tries gath­ered for a hastily sched­uled dis­cus­sion as the push for progress on a di­vorce deal quick­ened ahead of a vi­tal sum­mit.

Bri­tish Brexit Sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab’s of­fice said in a state­ment that his rushed trip to Brus­sels to sit down with the EU’s Michel Barnier was nec­es­sary. EU lead­ers say sig­nif­i­cant progress is needed be­fore Wed­nes­day’s sum­mit.

“With sev­eral big is­sues still to re­solve, in­clud­ing the North­ern Ire­land back­stop, it was jointly agreed that face-to-face talks were nec­es­sary,” Raab’s of­fice said.

Bri­tain and the EU are seek­ing a com­pro­mise po­si­tion on the dif­fi­cult Ir­ish border ques­tion ahead of the sum­mit that be­gins Wed­nes­day. Three diplo­mats from dif­fer­ent EU na­tions said the am­bas­sadors’ meet­ing un­der­scored that enough progress had been made to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion.

One diplo­mat said that if an agree­ment takes shape, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment would dis­cuss it to­day.

The “Ir­ish back­stop” is the main hur­dle to a deal that spells out the terms of Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the EU and fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the bloc.

Af­ter Brexit, the cur­rently in­vis­i­ble fron­tier be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Ire­land will be the U.K.’s only land border with an EU na­tion. Bri­tain and the EU agree there must be no cus­toms checks or other in­fra­struc­ture on the border, but do not agree on how that can be ac­com­plished.

The EU’s “back­stop” so­lu­tion — to keep North­ern Ire­land in a cus­toms union with the bloc — has been re­jected by Bri­tain be­cause it would re­quire checks be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the rest of the U.K.

The al­ter­na­tive — to keep the en­tire U.K. in a cus­toms union until a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion can be found — has out­raged pro-Brexit mem­bers of May’s gov­ern­ment, who claim that ap­proach would limit the coun­try’s abil­ity to strike new trade deals around the world.

The idea is also anath­ema to the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, a North­ern Ire­land Protes­tant party that props up May’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. So even if May strikes a deal with Brus­sels, she will strug­gle to get it past her gov­ern­ment and Par­lia­ment at home.

Raab’s pre­de­ces­sor, David Davis, wrote in the Sun­day Times that May’s plans for some con­tin­ued ties with the EU even af­ter Bri­tain leaves the bloc is “com­pletely un­ac­cept­able” and must be stopped by her min­is­ters.

May is strug­gling to build a con­sen­sus be­hind her Brexit plans ahead of a Cab­i­net meet­ing Tues­day that will be fol­lowed by Wed­nes­day’s EU sum­mit. If Davis’ call for a re­bel­lion is ef­fec­tive, the Cab­i­net meet­ing is likely to be frac­tious.

Davis and for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son re­signed from May’s Cab­i­net this sum­mer to protest her Brexit blue­print. While all three are in the rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party, the two men have be­come vo­cal op­po­nents of May’s plan, say­ing it would be­tray the Brexit vote and leave Bri­tain in a weak­ened po­si­tion.

May also faces ob­sta­cles from the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party in North­ern Ire­land, which has played a cru­cial role in prop­ping up her mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in Par­lia­ment.

DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter re­mains op­posed to any Brexit plan that would re­quire checks on goods trav­el­ing be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Bri­tain, as some EU lead­ers have sug­gested as part of a back­stop.

MATT CARDY / GETTY IM­AGES

A man tries to fly a Euro­pean flag Satur­day in Eng­land. EU lead­ers say sig­nif­i­cant progress on a Brexit deal is needed be­fore Wed­nes­day’s sum­mit.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May

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