U.K. Could Be Set Back for Missing EU's Deadline, Davidson Says

  • Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson speaks on Sunday
  • Both sides aiming to resolve Irish border issue by Dec. 4

U.K. Faces Brexit Deadline on Irish Border

The U.K. is close to running out of time in its divorce negotiations with the European Union and would be set back by missing a December deadline to resolve several thorny issues, Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson said.

Failing to resolve issues such as the status of the Irish border and the payment from the U.K. would further cut the time available to reach a new trading deal with the bloc, and add to uncertainties for business. The EU has set Dec. 4 for Prime Minister Theresa May, leader of the U.K. Conservatives, to outline solutions on the two issues before trade talks begin.

Ruth Davidson

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

“If we don’t make it through in the next two weeks, to move on to that next phase, then we are rapidly going to run out of time in terms of getting us to a good position at a time when that transitional deal is supposed to take place,” Davidson said on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “I don’t think it means the world has ended, but I do think it’s a setback.”

European Council President Donald Tusk asked the U.K. government to make extra efforts to resolve the differences -- most pressingly on the divorce bill and the thorny question of the Irish border -- by early December. Sufficient progress has to be made to allow talks to begin on the future trading relationship and the transition period that business craves.

Secret Bill

The U.K. has agreed with Brussels that Britain will pay more than 40 billion pounds ($53 billion) when it quits the bloc in March 2019, but the precise figure will not be disclosed to the public, according to the Sunday Times, which cited people in the EU familiar with the discussions.

Both sides are targeting a Dec. 14-15 European leaders’ summit as the time to declare that enough headway has been made to move on to discussing their future trading relationship.

Once the U.K. quits the EU, the border between Ireland’s north and south -- historically the scene of tense checkpoints and violent protest -- will regain significance as the only land crossing between EU-member Ireland and the U.K.

It’s “one of the toughest and most difficult and most urgent issues we’ve got to face,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said on ITV’s “Peston on Sunday.”

Varadkar’s Vow

Ireland is seeking guarantees from the U.K. that the 300-mile border will remain invisible after Brexit, and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said he may prevent negotiations from advancing without the assurance. He’s also under political pressure at home and risks an early election, potentially hardening his stance.

The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, which is propping up May’s Conservative government, said Saturday that it would oppose any attempt to apply EU rules to Northern Ireland after Brexit and that any move to impose a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. would be a “red line.”

May, meanwhile, has pledged to leave the customs union and single market, and has dismissed an Irish proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union, which would effectively move the frontier to the Irish Sea.

Ireland’s Phil Hogan, the EU commissioner for agriculture, said the U.K. remaining inside the single market and customs union, or allowing Northern Ireland to stay a member, would end the standoff, the Observer reported on Sunday. He also said that Ireland would “continue to play tough to the end” in potentially derailing talks until it has guarantees over the border.

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