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DUP rejects Barnier bid to solve Ireland border obstacle to Brexit progress

22 September 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday the Brexit plan proposed by British Prime Minister's Theresa May was unacceptable in its current form and that he expected new proposals from Britain in October.

May will get a chance to address European Union leaders at a dinner later Wednesday at the informal summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg, before a full day of talks on Thursday dominated by Brexit and the migration crisis.

May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would not get a "hard border" with the British province of Northern Ireland but warned she too could live with a no-deal outcome - though many round the summit table in picturesque Salzburg see that as more of a negotiating tactic than a credible threat.

"Concerns have been raised and I want to know what those concerns are", she said.

But May says any Irish deal must hinge on the EU accepting her country's proposal, which would - for a limited time - keep the United Kingdom in the European single market and customs union when it comes to trading goods.

European Union officials again said Britain had to move its own position over what has become known as the Irish backstop - how to avoid erecting border posts between the British province and European Union member Ireland - as well as on future economic cooperation after Brexit day in March.

The Prime Minister's objection to Brussels' earlier plan, to effectively keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and which would have placed the border with the Republic down the Irish Sea, was anathema to the UK Government, not to mention the Democratic Unionists, who prop it up at Westminster.

She added: "There is still a lot of work to do", and a no-deal scenario can't be ruled out.

He said the "moment of truth" in the negotiations would now come at the next full European Council meeting in October, when it will be decided whether to hold a special summit in November to finalise the withdrawal agreement.

A former Tory Welsh secretary who backed Remain said the way European Union leaders "sought to belittle" Theresa May in Salzburg made him more keen on Brexit.

May is keen to show hardline Brexiters, who will be out in force at the party conference and who have called on her to "chuck Chequers", that her plan is the only one that can be negotiated with the EU.

May's combative remarks were calibrated to appease euroskeptic Conservatives ahead of what's likely to be a bruising annual party conference at the end of the month.

Pro-EU politicians don't like the Chequers plan either, saying it will cut the U.K.'s vast services sector out of the EU's single market.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she hopes there will be a Brexit which takes place with respect and in a "good atmosphere", while Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stressed the need for a deal to be reached, in order to avoid both sides getting hurt. "We all want the best for both sides, but it's hard with all the red lines that are part of the British debate".

She maintains that the backstop would divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of customs after Brexit day in March. May has claimed that her proposals were the "only serious, credible" way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister told reporters that Chequers was the only way ensure that trade could flow freely across the Irish border after 2019.

But EU leaders sounded unconvinced as they filed into the summit on Thursday morning.

The former Tory MP and adviser to ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis, Stewart Jackson, blasted Tusk for "appalling and cheap conduct".

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker conceded Friday that the Brexit negotiations were prickly - likening them to the courtship of two hedgehogs - but insisted the two sides were "moving closer". At their bilateral talk, she was told time was running short and was pressed to bring forward a detailed alternative.

DUP rejects Barnier bid to solve Ireland border obstacle to Brexit progress