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Brexit chief David Davis predicts huge row over timetable for talks as EU pushes Irish border issue up agenda

By David Hughes

Brussels and Britain are in dispute over when the Irish border should be dealt with in Brexit talks, David Davis has said.

The Brexit Secretary rejected the EU's demands for the UK's fee for exiting the bloc and the issue of the border to be included in the first stage of talks.

Negotiations on the structure of the talks "will be the row of the summer", he predicted.

On ITV's Peston On Sunday, Mr Davis said that the EU talks team was deliberately putting pressure on the UK by making Northern Ireland and the 'divorce bill' early obstacles that had to be dealt with in order to move on to trade.

Mr Davis acknowledged there would be a "row" over the sequencing of talks, with the UK insisting that talks on a trade deal must feature at an early stage.

He insisted it was "wholly illogical" for Brussels to argue that progress must be made on agreeing the financial settlement and the border before talks can progress to the UK's future relationship - including the Government's desired trade deal.

Mr Davis said the position adopted by the EU and chief negotiator Michel Barnier was based on a "wrong interpretation of the treaty".

The position set out by Brussels was aimed at ensuring "the negotiating pressure is on us - that's why it is designed this way" with "the most difficult bit, the funding and Northern Ireland" established as hurdles to be crossed before trade talks.

Mr Davis said: "How on Earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what the free trade agreement is, whether you need to charge tariffs at the border or not? You can't decide one without the other."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called Mr Davis' remarks a direct challenge to the Irish Government and the negotiating stance outlined by Mr Barnier when he visited Dublin last week.

"Mr Davis made it clear that he does not accept that the first items to be resolved are the border and the divorce bill for Britain," said Mr Adams.

"These remarks emphasise the need for the Irish Government to urgently press the European Council to secure for the North special designated status within the EU. Without that protection, the effect of Brexit on the North's economy and, in particular, our agricultural and agri-food sectors will be enormous.

"The border region will be especially hard-hit and the fundamental human rights guarantees of the Good Friday Agreement will be significantly undermined.

"The Irish Government is a co-equal guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. It must fulfil its responsibility to defend the Agreement and to defend the decision of the people of the North in the referendum last year to remain within the EU."

Mr Davis said the UK would adopt technology to cover the transport of goods between Northern Ireland and the south.

The Government wants a "frictionless" arrangement to avoid a return to borders of the past when the area was heavily militarised due to the IRA threat.

Last week Mr Barnier told a joint sitting of the Irish Parliament that the border, citizens' rights and "the financial settlement" must be first priorities.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill will be among a delegation visiting Strasbourg this week to press for special status for Northern Ireland.

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