Britain entered another crucial day of negotiations Tuesday to reach an agreement with the European Union three weeks ahead of October 31, the day that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to pull the UK out of the bloc with or without a deal.
On Monday, the UK’s chief Brexit official David Frost was in Brussels and Brexit minister Steve Barclay visited the Netherlands in an attempt to drum up support for Johnson's proposal that Northern Ireland leaves the customs union along with the rest of the UK, but remains in the single market for goods.
But the response in Dublin has been cool on the plan, with Ireland's Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was preparing to present a no deal Brexit plan on Tuesday, outlining plans to insulate the country if Britain leaves the EU without an agreement.
The Irish government has previously warned that as many as 80,000 jobs are at risk in Ireland if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, and business leaders have called for "decisive and far-reaching intervention" to prevent the economy from grinding to a halt.
On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron told the UK prime minister by phone that the EU wanted to determine swiftly whether a deal was possible. The EU wants plenty of time to plan its approach ahead of a crucial European Council summit on October 17-18.
Johnson told the French president the EU should not be lured into believing the UK would stay in the bloc after October 31.
He and his supporters continue to repeat the message that there will be no new Brexit delay at the end of the month – even though the British parliament has legislated effectively obliging the prime minister to seek another extension if no deal is agreed with the EU.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Saturday that on the basis of his mandate from the EU27, he did not believe progress could be made unless the British changed their position.
A no-deal Brexit “would always be the UK’s choice, not ours,” he said, in what some are taking to be the beginning of a blame game. The British government has accused the EU of lacking flexibility.
The European Commission said on Friday that the British plan submitted last week did not provide the basis for reaching an agreement.
Boris Johnson has acknowledged that customs checks will be inevitable on the island of Ireland, which the Irish government – backed by the EU – wants to avoid.
The British say these could be largely automated, and take place away from the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The EU believes the risk of a hard border is too great.
Brussels insists any alternative plan to the backstop must be equally credible and legally enforceable.
The UK wants to ditch the EU’s insurance measure as contained in the negotiated withdrawal agreement, which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU should no alternative solution be found.
The prime minister has claimed that his plan would have the support of parliament, which rejected the existing exit deal three times. This has led to more criticism that the UK is once again negotiating with itself rather than with the EU.