EU leaders urged to 'step up' Brexit no-deal plans
AFP, , Wednesday 20 Jun 2018

EU leaders will be asked to accelerate contingency plans in the event of failed Brexit negotiations with Britain, according to draft conclusions of a key European summit to be held next week.

The European Council, which groups the EU's 28 member states, "renews its call upon member states and all stakeholders to step up their work on preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes", said a harshly worded draft document seen by AFP on Wednesday.

The spectre of no deal had subsided in December after Britain agreed in principle on several EU red lines, including the hot-button issue of Ireland, that London agreed to flesh out later.

The June 28-29 summit in Brussels was long set as the deadline for Britain to provide its detailed offer on the fate of the Irish border.

This was to include the controversial idea of a "backstop" that would keep a non-EU Northern Ireland inside the bloc's customs union, barring a better solution.

But overwhelmed by political turmoil within her own Conservative Party, British Prime Minister Theresa May has so far failed to submit a compromise that satisfies the Europeans in time for the summit.

The Council, which is headed by EU President Donald Tusk, "expresses its concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland," the draft said.

"Negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full."

After a round of talks in Brussels, the EU had already on Tuesday underlined problems, noting the "serious divergences" on Ireland despite progress on several technical components of the Brexit negotiations.

"We are not there yet: serious divergences remain on the backstop for (Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic). More work clearly needed," EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Twitter.

At the European summit, Barnier will present the state of play in Brexit negotiations to the assembled heads of state and government.

The EU hopes a final version of the withdrawal agreement, together with a political declaration on the future relationship between London and the EU, can be approved by October so that it can be ratified by the Brexit deadline of the end of March 2019.