LONDON / BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – A Brexit deal is close due to differences at the Irish border but has not been finalized yet. Britain and the European Union said on Tuesday that the Sterling saw conflicting ideas about how difficult it was for Prime Minister Theresa to comply with an agreement.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond leave 10 Downing Street in London, UK, on 31 October 2018. REUTERS / Henry Nicholls
"We still are not 100 percent," said European Union negotiator Michel Barnier at a press conference. "What's missing is a solution to the Irish question."
The UK and the EU both wish to keep the border between the EU Member Ireland and Northern Ireland in the UK after Brexit open, as this is considered crucial for the Good Friday of 1998, which ended the decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
While subsequent agreements at the border have to be agreed in subsequent trade talks, a backstop arrangement is difficult in the event that such talks fail. Britain's desire to leave the Customs Union is not easily reconciled with maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.
Barnier said the EU is working to improve its backstop offer, or a stopgap to keep the Irish border open, despite the Brexit implications. However, this must be practicable.
London wants the rate of retention to be provisional rather than permanent, while the EU rejects any proposal that it could expire. Barnier said the backstop can not have an end date.
He points out that without an agreement that prevents a hard border in Ireland, the UK will leave the EU in less than five months without a transitional period.
May told her high-level Cabinet of Ministers that more work was needed at the Irish bases, and that although the 95-percent withdrawal agreement was completed, Northern Ireland was by far the main problem.
It is unclear whether an agreement can be reached in good time to hold an emergency summit in November to sign the agreement. May told her ministers that "the goal of making a deal would not be at any price".
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was open to creative language and creative solutions to the issue, but reiterated Ireland's view that the backstop clause in a Brexit deal must have neither an expiration date nor a one-sided exit clause.
The dispute over whether there would be a deal to leave the EU on March 29 until Brexit Day came as a poll, as if the British would rather stay.
Voters would now lag behind by 54 to 46 percent, the largest independent poll conducted since the Brexit vote.
May has repeatedly ruled out a referendum rally and said it was her job to cast the 2016 poll to leave the bloc, even though her plan attracts critics on both sides of the Brexit divide.
It must unite its government, its party, and its domestic allies with a Brexit plan that is acceptable to the EU as well.
The British pound fell to a high-ranking member of the Northern Ireland party that supported the May administration, saying that the UK would likely leave the EU without an agreement.
"Looks like we're not going to seek a deal," said Jeffrey Donaldson, one of ten Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) legislators, whose support May needs to reach an agreement in the British Parliament, on Twitter.
But the pound rebounded after a BBC reporter asked Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab after a cabinet meeting if he was thumbs up or thumbs down and he replied, "Thumbs up."
The pound has risen 0.3 percent against the dollar and Raab has brought the euro to a 5-month low against the pound.
Reports by Alistair Smout, William James and Andy Bruce in London, Amanda Ferguson in Belfast and Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Tatiana Jancarikova in Bratislava and Jan Strupczewski, Alastair Macdonald and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels. Edited by Andrew MacAskill, Janet Lawrence, Guy Faulconbridge