Britain ‘playing a game of chicken’ with Brexit

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Sinn Fein and Fine Gael have warned the British government against last-minute negotiations on the border ahead of a crucial June 28-29 summit to finalise a Brexit deal.

SF president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O’Neill met Theresa May and Karen Bradley at Westminster. Afterwards, Ms McDonald accused the government of “playing for time” and “running the clock down” when it comes to Brexit.

It was the first time Sinn Fein had met the government since February of this year.

She said she heard nothing new in discussions with the British PM and her Direct Ruler in the north of Ireland, Karen Bradley.

Ms McDonald also said the Dublin government needs to have a greater role in the Brexit discussions.

She said the Tories were “playing a very dangerous game” and still did not have a “positive proposal” when it comes to the Irish border.

Ms McDonald said: “Despite all of the rhetoric Theresa May has drawn a blank by way of response to those issues, so we believe that there’s game playing, there’s brinksmanship and that the Tory government are playing a game of chicken with Brexit and with Ireland. We find that unacceptable.”

She also reiterated Sinn Fein’s call for Mrs May to grant special status to the Six Counties, allowing it to remain in the customs union and the single market.

Mrs McDonald added: “The British government knows what the answer is. They know precisely what the answer is but they’re playing games and I think certainly patience has run out with that approach. It’s dangerous, it’s reckless.”

Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also accused London of stalling progress in Brexit negotiations and warned of the consequences of not striking a deal on the border.

Mr Varadkar said other countries wouldn’t trust the British government in trade deals if Theresa May fails to honour commitments already made to the EU on the Irish issue.

Both sides have agreed to include a so-called “backstop” option in the withdrawal treaty, which would commit London to align with an EU regulatory framework across the Irish border in the absence of a wider trade deal.

But the shape of that fallback remains a sticking point, with the EU rejecting British suggestions that it should apply also to Britain and only be temporary, even if a full agreement fails to materialise.

Mr Varadkar urged the EU to continue to “stand behind Ireland” on the border issue as European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier visited Dublin.

“It is our view that we haven’t seen sufficient progress from the UK in the last couple of months,” said the Taoiseach.

“We had a good political agreement in December. We had further progress in March where they accepted there had to be a backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement.

“But since then, quite frankly, progress has stalled, and what I want all of Europe to do is to continue to stand behind Ireland and say to the UK they have to honour the commitments they made.

“And you know the UK is a country that’s talking about going global, talking about making trade deals all over the world.

“How could anyone make a deal with a country that doesn’t stand by its commitments?”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also warned that a no-deal, ‘hard Brexit’ scenario was now being seriously contemplated within the European Union.

That could bring profound uncertainty for people in the border counties and the possibility of a rapid remilitarisation of the area.

Later on RTE radio, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said that it was now “crunch time”. She added that it was clear to her that as far as the British government is concerned there is a policy of “Ireland last”, which she described as “ very dangerous.”

The last thing any one wants is a disastrous exit, she said. “We need to ensure that Ireland is protected. That’s our first duty. Britain is game-playing. They need to be called out.”

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