Irish border solution is 'fantasy', says former ambassador to EU

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Theresa May's plans for the Irish border post-Brexit were reportedly subjected to a "systematic and forensic annihilation" in Brussels - and remainers have seized on the news.

"It was a detailed and forensic rebuttal".

European Union diplomatic sources told The Daily Telegraph that Brussels officials delivered a "detailed and forensic rebuttal", and said "none of the United Kingdom customs options will work - none of them".

May's plan included three options for the Irish border, with Britain backing a close economic relationship that avoids customs checks or a technological solutions that would make the border near-frictionless.

He said Number 10 was "not aware" of suggestions that chief European Union negotiator Michel Barnier had put trade talks on hold while the Irish issue took centre stage.

Should Brussels reject the options put forward by May, it would be a major blow for the UK's hopes of securing a Brexit deal.

The "Irish question" of how Britain can balance an open Irish border while pulling Northern Ireland from the customs union and single market increasingly appears to be the one issue which could bring the Brexit process screeching to a halt.

With a debate and vote on the customs union in the House of Commons next week expected to reveal the level of support for it among MPs, some believe the prime minister could yet be forced into conceding on her red line on the issue.

"There are a few cave-dwellers in the House of Lords who are committed to opposing Brexit altogether, who want to keep us in, who never liked the vote to leave, who are contemptuous of democracy, and they are increasingly out of touch with the mood of the British people. None of them", they added. "This is a crisis of Mrs May's making". "In parallel we will start our first talks about the future EU-UK relationship".

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He added: "There is clear momentum and political support for the United Kingdom to remain in the customs union".

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.

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 criticism follows news that Brussels has again rejected the UK's proposals to avoid a hard border in Ireland, with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying the United Kingdom wants to "cherrypick" its terms.

Even if Britain and the European Union were working towards a British exit from the European Union taking place in March 2019, this may not happen if outstanding topics such as Ireland were unresolved, he said.

"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.

"As the PM's letter to Donald Tusk said, we have made our position on aspects of the draft Commission Protocol clear".

Britain last month rejected the EU's language on the Border in a draft withdrawal agreement because it claims it only partially reflects the joint report agreed between the two sides last December. "We're confident we can continue".

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