British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting with top European Union officials to make a final push to expand talks on her country leaving the bloc to the vital issues of future relations and trade. May arrived in Brussels early Friday to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, after a round of overnight telephone calls appeared to have clinched a breakthrough on the issue of Irish borders.
May’s EU partners insist the talks must make “sufficient progress” on Britain’s financial settlement, a way to keep open Northern Ireland’s border with Ireland and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit. They meet in Brussels in a week to decide whether enough ground has been made to broaden the talks to future relations and trade, as Britain so badly wants. Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, but negotiations must be wrapped up within a year to leave time for parliaments to endorse any deal.
Business leaders warn further delays will hurt companies as they plan for the future. May ignored reporters’ calls to say whether she had actually clinched a deal, following phone diplomacy with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Juncker throughout the night. She was also due to hold talks Friday with European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair next Thursday’s summit, while her Brexit envoy David Davis was meeting with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier.
Existing rules allow people and goods to pass freely between the Republic and Northern Ireland with no border checks. Ireland wants to preserve the current arrangement, which has eased tensions along the border. May is struggling to balance those demands against the concerns of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which she relies on to support her government in Parliament.