EU minister ‘nervous’ time running out for Brexit deal

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BRUSSELS, July 20, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – European Union ministers met Friday to
discuss gaps with Britain in the Brexit negotiations as Germany’s envoy
admitted he was nervous time was running out for a deal.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was due to brief the ministers on his
talks with his new British counterpart Dominic Raab, after their first
meeting on Thursday.

Raab took up the job after a rebellion against Prime Minister Theresa
May’s Brexit blueprint, with the discord in London and slow pace of talks
worrying many in Europe.

“Time is running out. The clock is ticking. That is why I’m a little bit
nervous,” Germany’s European affairs minister Michael Roth said on arrival
for the Brussels meeting.

Britain is set to leave the bloc on March 30, but the two sides want to
strike an agreement by late October in order to give parliaments enough time
to endorse a deal.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, published a document on
Thursday urging the remaining 27 member states and businesses to “step up
preparations” for all outcomes, including the lack of deal.

It warned of disruptions, including to business supply chains.

Britons voted to leave the 28-nation bloc in June 2016, but negotiations
were only launched a year later and have bogged down frequently since then.

Raab said in Brussels on Thursday he looked forward to “intensifying,
heating up” the Brexit negotiations.

May’s blueprint would see Britain ask the EU for a free trade area for
goods through a “facilitated customs arrangement” alongside a “common
rulebook”. EU ministers welcomed some but not all parts of the blueprint.

They listed as a top concern the lack of progress on the future of the
border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern
Ireland.

Under its guidelines, the EU stipulates there should be no “hard border,”
such as customs checks, in order to preserve the gains of the Irish peace
process.

“We have no solution yet” on Ireland, Luxembourg’s minister Jean
Asselborn told reporters.

“And if we can’t find a solution, I don’t know how to bring Brexit to the
goal,” Asselborn said.

Standing with Raab on Thursday, Barnier said there were only 13 months to
finalise a withdrawal agreement.

“It is a matter of urgency to agree on a legally operative backstop for
Ireland and northern Ireland. We need an all weather insurance policy,” he
said.

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