The Union Jack and the European Union flags. EU ambassador to SA Marcus Cornaro says Brexit will not affect trade relations between the European Union and SA for at least two years. Picture: REUTERS/JON NAZCA
The Union Jack and the European Union flags. EU ambassador to SA Marcus Cornaro says Brexit will not affect trade relations between the European Union and SA for at least two years. Picture: REUTERS/JON NAZCA

Brussels - EU negotiators see the outlines of a compromise on the Irish border issue that is holding up Brexit talks, EU sources say, raising hopes that a new British offer could unlock a deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May has promised new proposals and sketchy details seen so far have found a tentative welcome in Brussels.

"This is a step in the right direction," a EU source close to negotiations said on Thursday.

A second source said EU negotiator Michel Barnier was looking at where the bloc could make improvements to what it had offered London as both sides race to overcome the remaining obstacles to a Brexit deal before a high-stakes EU summit on October 17-18.

"We are definitely engaging with Britain" on ways to break the deadlock over what is known as the "Irish backstop", said an EU diplomat.

Barnier said that the Brexit negotiations were in their final stages. "To agree to any deal, we need to have a legally sound backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland," Barnier said on Twitter after he had a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

The EU is insisting on a backstop clause in any withdrawal treaty to avoid erecting border posts between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels cannot agree on a trade pact. A seamless border is part of the settlement that largely ended decades of violence in the province.

EU diplomats and officials described an emerging new proposal under which Britain would agree to an indefinite border backstop solution, a commitment missing in London’s previous proposal.

But Britain would stick to its line that if the backstop was triggered the whole of the UK would stay in a customs union with the EU.

That would mean having the same external tariff on some goods as the EU now has with Turkey, and curb Britain’s ability to strike trade deals with other countries.

Under the British proposal described by EU sources, that would remove the need for customs checks on goods and agriculture on the island of Ireland.

The EU has feared such an arrangement could allow Britain to use Northern Ireland’s special access to the bloc’s single market to push goods that did not conform with high EU norms, and hence be sold cheaper.

Reuters

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