No Brexit transition deal without solution to Irish border issue, European Union warns

Theresa May has claimed that she is in favour of a frictionless border. Pic AP

Theresa May has claimed that she is in favour of a frictionless border. Pic AP

The EU source, who was privy to Wednesday's meeting in Brussels between Britain's lead negotiator Olly Robbins and senior EU officials, reportedly told The Telegraph: "It was made clear that none of the UK's customs options will work".

The revelation came after Britain's lead negotiator Olly Robbins met with senior European Union officials, and has raised doubts about hopes for the future deal with Europe.

A legal draft of December's phase one agreement that formalised a "backstop" arrangement, whereby Northern Ireland would remain in a customs union with the EU if negotiators were unable to agree on a more elegant solution, was immediately rejected by Mrs May and the DUP in early March.

The source was directly briefed on the meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

"We are confident that in the coming months if all sides work together productively we can achieve a solution", British prime minister Theresa May's official spokesman said.

The row comes after the House of Lords inflicted a major defeat on the Government by backing calls for the United Kingdom to stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

"We have been clear that the United Kingdom is leaving the customs union and we need to find a solution that protects things like the Belfast agreement, avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and protects Ireland's place in the United Kingdom internal market".

Britain wants to see a new "streamlined customs partnership" with "regulatory equivalence" on both sides of the border, as well as an option for future "divergence", the newspaper reported, but the European Union has rejected this out of hand.

Michel Barnier said on Friday that a quarter of the work needed to complete preparations for the United Kingdom to leave the the bloc next March remains to be done, as sources say little progress was made in three weeks of talks to break the deadlock on the vexed Irish question.

The deal done between the United Kingdom and EU in December states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the customs union if there is no other solution to avoiding a hard border. The same issue was defeated in the Lords.

The EU wants to present an agreed solution on the issue to a summit meeting of European leaders in June.

Britain's former ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, has warned that United Kingdom hopes of finding a technological solution to the Irish border issue are being regarded as a "fantasy island unicorn model" by other European capitals.

"Without a solution, there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition".

"We want to use the positive momentum in these negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues, such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Nothern Ireland", he said.

Former Treasury permanent secretary Lord Macpherson tweeted: "EU's position on Irish border so predictable".

He told those at the Policy Exchange think-tank in London: "The Brits are focused above all on Option B - the technological solution".

A Government spokesman said: "We have been clear that we will protect Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom internal market".

A British government spokesman insisted that Britain was "continuing an intensive work programme to engage" on all the scenarios set out in the Joint Report agreed in December by Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

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