- Michel Barnier has claimed that talks with UK were now in the ‘home straight’
- Theresa May will use Salzburg speech to try to kill off idea of a Irish hard border
- Mr Barnier said last night that EU will ‘improve’ its offer to break the deadlock
- He claims customs officials could inspect goods entering UK away from border
Michel Barnier has vowed to ‘improve’ the EU’s Irish border plan to secure a Brexit deal – but is still insisting that checks must apply between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
The bloc’s chief negotiator said he hoped talks were on the ‘home straight’ and he was working on a compromise to bring agreement into ‘grasp’.
But he made clear that the proposal will put the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – something Theresa May is adamant she will not accept as it would risk splitting the union.
The manoeuvring comes as Mrs May heads for Salzburg to plead for EU leaders to help break the deadlock in talks.
The premier had hoped to discuss her Chequers plan directly with counterparts for the first time. But EU council president Donald Tusk stepped in to quash the idea – meaning Mrs May will have to make do with a 10 minute speech over dinner tonight that is set to be received in silence by other leaders.
Mr Barnier renewed his efforts to ‘de-dramatise’ the Irish border issue last night by saying he was working on a new draft of his blueprint.
The EU official suggested officials could inspect goods entering the UK via Ireland on ferries and in business premises away from the border.
He said: ‘We are ready to improve this proposal. Work on the EU side is ongoing. We are clarifying which goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would need to be checked and where, when and by whom these checks could be performed’.
The 67-year-old said talks were in the ‘home straight’, although two key issues remained unresolved ahead of October’s deadlines – one being the problem surrounding the Irish border.
Barnier said that an Irish ‘backstop’ must be legally operationally and respect the UK’s constitutional integrity.