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Brexit chaos: EU tells May UK has 12 weeks to solve Ireland border issue

By David Young

EU negotiators have reportedly set a 12-week deadline for Prime Minister Theresa May to resolve the Irish border issue.

The Cabinet is still examining how to deal with the frontier once the UK quits the European Union next March.

Both the UK and the EU say they are committed to keeping the border open after Brexit - however, a practical solution has not been agreed.

Yesterday DUP leader Arlene Foster threatened to pull out of a deal to prop up Mrs May's Government if it adopts a Brexit deal that treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

Mrs Foster again warned that customs parity with Britain was a "red line" for her party, whose 10 MPs support the Conservatives in Westminster.

The warning came just days after reports that a 10-mile wide buffer zone could be created on the northern side of the frontier - a suggestion dubbed "Alice in Wonderland thinking".

It also came as the PSNI shelved plans to close three border stations because of the uncertainty around Brexit.

The Brussels warning was reportedly issued by Eurocrat Sabine Weyand to UK Brexit negotiator Oliver Robbins.

She has indicated the UK has to come to the negotiating table with what the European Commission sees as a "realistic" position by the end of the summer.

At the weekend the Irish Government indicated the timeframe was even shorter.

Simon Coveney, the Republic's Foreign Minister, said the UK must submit written proposals in the next two weeks or face an uncertain summer of talks.

The DUP insists any Brexit settlement will only have the party's support if it applies to the whole of the UK.

The party is adamant there must be no special arrangements which separate Northern Ireland from Britain.

Yesterday the PSNI confirmed that three border stations earmarked for disposal will now not be sold because of uncertainty about what resources will be needed post-Brexit.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: "The PSNI has a responsibility to keep people safe and we constantly review our resources to ensure that we are best equipped to do this. In light of the UK referendum vote to leave the EU, we are reviewing decisions we previously made about some of our stations identified for disposal.

"Accordingly, it is our intention to pause the disposal of three stations in border areas, namely Warrenpoint, Castlederg and Aughnacloy.

"As the PSNI has not yet received details regarding potential border arrangements, this is a precautionary step to ensure that, whatever Brexit looks like in the future, we will be able to continue to keep our communities safe."

Last week Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay told this newspaper that at least four major PSNI stations will be needed in border areas to cope with a post-Brexit terror threat.

In other developments yesterday, ministers were forced to deny reports that civil servants have been drawing up scenarios for a 'Doomsday Brexit' that would leave the UK short of medicine, fuel and food within days if it leaves the EU without an agreed trade deal. It is the latest in a series of difficulties facing Mrs May as she struggles to pull together a workable Brexit action plan as negotiating deadlines loom.

Brussels has already rejected several proposals brought forward by the UK Government.

These include a 'customs partnership' idea which proposed that the UK could collect tariffs on behalf of the EU after Brexit, and a plan called 'max-fac' which would manage the Irish border trade and customs issues through technological solutions and a 'trusted trader' scheme.

Belfast Telegraph

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