Boris Johnson has issued a new call for the EU to give the green light for the second phase of the Brexit negotiations to begin.
The Foreign Secretary, in Dublin for talks with his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, said that if they were to resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland, they had to be able to discuss Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
“Everybody recognises the unique circumstances of the border with Northern Ireland. Everybody understands the difficulties that that border poses and nobody wants to see a return to a hard border,” he said.
“In order to resolve those issues and get it right for our peoples, it is necessary now to move on to the second stage of the negotiations which really entail so many of the questions that are bound up with the border issue.”
However, Mr Coveney said they still needed greater “clarity” of the UK’s proposals for dealing with the border issue before the talks could move on to phase two.
“We all want to move on to phase two of the Brexit negotiations but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that,” he said.
“We also have very serious issues in phase one, particularly around the border and the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process that need more clarity than we currently have.”
The EU has said there needs to be further progress on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal - including the UK’s “divorce bill” and future citizens’ rights as well as the border issue - if leaders are to agree to move to phase two at their summit in December.
Mr Johnson, however, insisted the time had come for the two sides to get into the “meat” of the negotiations and start discussing Britain’s future relationship with the EU - including a new free trade agreement.
“The issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market and Britain’s relationship with those,” he said.
“Those questions have been reserved by the (European) Commission for study in stage two of the negotiations. I think, logically, now is the time to proceed with stage two of the negotiations.”
Mr Johnson played down a call by Mr Coveney for a transition period of up to five years after Britain leaves the EU, rather than the two years Prime Minister Theresa May has proposed.
“Everybody want to have the maximum possible reassurance. I think it is possible to do that within a much shorter time scale,” he said.
However, Mr Coveney said the priority should be to provide certainty for business as opposed to “other political considerations”.
“When there is as fundamental a change as we are trying to negotiate here, we do need to give those affected by the change the time and the space to plan in a way that is orderly and managed,” he said.
“In my view, the primary issues and concern there needs to be the need for business to adjust over time as opposed to any other political considerations.
“We think it is possible over the next 12 months to put a framework agreement in place in terms of what the future relationship may look like, but we also think it is going to take a number of years to really finalise the detail.
“I think the appropriate timetable is closer to four or five years than it is to two.”
Mr Coveney added that the talks on the Irish border were at “somewhat of an impasse”.
He said: “We simply don’t see how we can avoid border infrastructure, whether it’s on the border or somewhere else on the island if we have regulatory divergence in Northern Ireland versus the rest of the island.
“When you have a different rule book applied to trade and business, well then, you are starting to go down the road of having to have checks and inspections.”