October 3, 2018 / 9:45 AM / 19 days ago

Brexit talks must focus on divorce deal before future ties - Czech official

BRUSSELS, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Britain and the European Union must focus on getting a divorce deal with an emergency Irish border fix before they embark on discussions on their post-Brexit trade ties, the Czech Republic’s pointman on Europe said.

Britain is due to leave the EU in 177 days but talks on managing the unprecedented split have stalled over differences on how to avoid border checks between EU member Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland afterwards.

Eyes are on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s final speech at her Tory Party conference on Wednesday. A flurry of activity will follow as both sides seek to try to break the deadlock in time for EU summits on Oct.18 and Nov.17-18 at the latest.

“The chief concern for the EU right now is reaching a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement that would provide us with a two year transition period in which to set out the future relationship between the EU and the UK,” State Secretary for European Affairs Ales Chmelar said in a comment to Reuters, adding that divorce must cover an Irish fix.

That differs from Britain’s preferred option of focusing on agreeing close future ties in trade. London wants this post-Brexit arrangement to regulate the Irish border but the bloc wants an emergency solution if trade talks fail or take longer.

“The future relationship ... is a matter for future discussions. Without the Withdrawal Agreement we are, very soon, heading towards a no deal scenario in which a hard border would inevitably be drawn up,” Chmelar said.

As both sides ready concessions in the coming days, Britain is expected to present a new proposal for the Irish border soon.

From the EU side, the other 27 member states will put in writing for the first time next week their free trade proposal for Britain for after Brexit, hoping a more fleshed-out promise would woo London into compromises on Ireland and help May get enough support behind any divorce deal. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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