BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland’s main nationalist party urged Ireland on Thursday to block talks on future ties between Britain and the European Union as not enough progress had been made on agreeing the status of the Irish border once London exits the EU.
The EU has said that talks on its future relations with Britain can start only after all 27 EU governments are satisfied “sufficient progress” has been made on three issues: citizens’ rights, an EU-UK financial settlement and Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein, the main Irish nationalist party in Northern Ireland, has called for the British province to be given special status within the EU to retain vital financial ties to protect its economy and safeguard its 1998 peace accord.
Pro-British unionist rivals in Northern Ireland say this would not work as it would create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday negotiations with Britain this week failed to make the kind of progress needed to open talks on their future relationship as planned in October.
“The Irish government should insist that the negotiations are not ready to move to the next stage,” Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said in a statement on Thursday. “The fact that no definitive progress has been made in these talks is evidence that the British Brexit plans are unworkable and unrealistic.”
While Sinn Fein is in opposition in the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, many of its concerns about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland are shared by the Irish government.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney earlier on Thursday told Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond at a meeting in Dublin that “a lot of work is still required on these issues ahead of any decision by the European Council”.
Adams described a number of British government papers on negotiating priorities released in recent weeks as “confused and contradictory.”
Sinn Fein has said that the wish of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government for a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is unlikely to be compatible with its desire to leave the EU single market and customs union.
Sinn Fein has also complained that Britain’s plan to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could damage Northern Ireland’s peace agreement that ended decades of violence between pro-British Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists seeking to merge the province with Ireland.
Adams added: “The position of the British government on leaving the (EU) customs union, single market, EU Court of Justice, and refusing to deal with the long term future of the European Convention of Human Rights directly contradicts their commitments on Ireland.”
Reporting by Ian Graham; Writing by Conor Humphries; editing by Mark Heinrich