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Theresa May sent ‘back to the drawing board’ over Irish border plans

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Prime Minister Theresa May delivering her Mansion House speech (Getty)

An EU Commissioner has confirmed that Theresa May’s proposed solutions for avoiding a hard border in Ireland after Brexit have been rejected as unworkable by the bloc.

The Prime Minister set out two plans last month that she said would maintain a “frictionless” border in Ireland while allowing the UK to leave the EU’s customs union.

In her Mansion House speech, that was initially welcomed in Brussels, she said the two goals could be achieved through a new “customs partnership” or technological solutions that eliminate the need for physical checks.

Mrs May has insistied that the plans are viable despite reports that they had been “annihilated” by EU officials in the last round of Brexit negotiations.

But Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan today told members of Ireland’s upper chamber that the UK will have to find a new solution.

Speaking in Dublin, he said: “The EU has looked at the UK’s ideas; is not convinced that they can give us the border security we need, within the Brexit timescale; and has sent the UK back to the drawing board.”

Mr Hogan said the UK government was stuck in a “self-imposed contradiction” between its aim of avoiding a hard border in Ireland and leaving the customs union.

He said the UK government is “trying to escape by investing a new type of border.”

Phil Hogan says recent comments from Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg about Ireland’s beef trade were ‘unhelpful and irresponsible’.

But the Commissioner said: “The UK has to face up to the fact that decision time is here.

“The EU must be satisfied the UK’s invention will work or it is the back-stop.

“The deadline is set for June. No decision, no Withdrawal Treaty; no Withdrawal Treaty, no transition.”

His comments came as MPs debated cross-party calls for the UK to remain in a customs union after Brexit in order to resolve the impasse over the Irish border.

Brexit supporters say that remaining in the customs union would reduce Britain to a “vassal state”.

They want the UK to leave the arrangement, which sets an external tariffs for goods imported into the EU, so that it can independently negotiate trade deals with other countries.

But Labour MP Yvette Cooper said there was a “consensus” forming to keep the UK in a customs union as Conservative MPs voiced their support for the proposal today.

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