My officials and I remain in on-going contact with representatives from other EU Member States and the European Commission on a range of EU issues including Brexit. It is clear from these engagements that our EU partners remain strongly committed to ensuring a fully operational solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the all-island economy and the integrity of the Single Market.
I met with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith on 4 October where we discussed a range of issues including the on-going challenges regarding Brexit. However, as has been the case throughout this process, I have been clear that discussions on the Withdrawal Agreement, and the future relationship, are led by the Commission, on behalf of all Member States, and cannot be treated as a bilateral issue.
The UK put forward its proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland on 2 October. While Mr Barnier has welcomed the tabling of formal proposals, there is work to be done to narrow the considerable gap between the EU and UK positions. Discussions are continuing in Brussels with a range of significant concerns on the EU side, notably as regards the British proposals on customs arrangements and on governance arrangements.
Ireland and the EU want a deal – but it is very clear that any deal must respect the EU’s core objectives. Any alternative to the backstop must meet all of its objectives. It must protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, protecting North South cooperation and the all island economy, and protecting the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland’s place in them.
With 9 days until the European Council and 23 until 31 October, we hope that the UK engages constructively with Michel Barnier and the Task Force as we all continue to work towards a deal and orderly UK withdrawal. I and my officials will remain in contact with Michel Barnier and his team.