I will attend the informal Council at the EU-western Balkan summit in Sofia in the next two days. I will have two objectives. First, I will take the opportunity to engage with other Heads of State and Government on EU issues, from Brexit to initial conversations on the next EU budget. I will also be expressing the Government's support for further enlargement into the western Balkans. We are strongly of the view that enlargement into central and eastern Europe is the right thing to do. It has helped to establish democracy across the Continent and bring relative prosperity to the countries of central and eastern Europe. We believe the countries of the western Balkans should be part of that European path. The countries in question do have to live up to standards and the Copenhagen criteria still apply. Provided the countries in the western Balkans - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania - can meet these standards, we believe they should be able to join the European Union. We are very supportive in that regard. This is the position I have articulated in the past and I will certainly do so again in Sofia in the next two days in welcoming these countries into the European family in the way Ireland was welcomed in the past and Croatia has been welcomed most recently.
I am sure the European Union's response to Israel will be discussed. It will be a topic for the working dinner tomorrow night. The way the common security policy works in the European Union is by consensus or unanimity, not by qualified majority vote, QMV, or a simple majority vote. The European Union can only act when there is consensus. A number of member states are very close to Israel, much closer than Ireland. Unless we move more towards QMV on foreign policy matters, to which I imagine Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett would be opposed, it is difficult for the European Union to act in that regard. Member states acted together in reaffirming their views that the embassy of the United States of America should remain in Tel Aviv and not move to Jerusalem. We were able to reach consensus on that issue some months ago, but on other matters I believe it will be very difficult to do so in reality. That is just the way it works in the absence of deeper integration on foreign and security policy.
Little progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations in recent weeks. For some weeks we have been awaiting more detailed proposals from the United Kingdom on a customs union or an alternative wording of a backstop plan, about which it has also spoken. In the absence of proposals from it on a customs union or an alternative wording of backstop plan, it is difficult to make progress. We stand by the backstop plan and the text of the Northern Ireland protocol as it is. We must insist on it being included in the withdrawal agreement unless there is a better alternative. That is the position of the task force and the EU27. October is and always has been the deadline for the withdrawal agreement and ratification thereafter by the European Parliament and the UK Parliament. In June we want to see real and meaningful progress. If we do not see it in June, we will have to ask serious questions about whether a withdrawal agreement will be possible in October at all. At this stage, I cannot say what progress looks like. It is too far away and there are too many moving parts. It may, however, become more apparent as we move into June. The customs partnership proposed by the United Kingdom last June would not be workable. That is very much the view of the task force and the EU27 and it has been rejected. I believe the customs partnership is closer to being made workable than the maximum facilitation proposal or max-fac which, as Deputy Joan Burton pointed out, I had thought was some form of make-up or deodorant. I have certainly not seen to date any detail that indicates that such a solution would be as functional as make-up or a deodorant. We are not drawing up any plan for a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, full stop. There is not going to be one. I have made it very clear to my counterpart in the United Kingdom and the other EU Prime Ministers that under no circumstances will there be a border.