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Speed up Brexit talks, EU demands

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European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attends an EU's General Affairs Council in Brussels, Belgium, February 27, 2018. Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called on London to “pick up the pace” of talks if it wants a deal this year on a draft treaty published yesterday, which also provoked anger in Northern Ireland.

“If we wish to make a success of these negotiations … we must pick up the pace,” he told reporters after the European Commission endorsed a first public draft for a withdrawal treaty which both sides hope can be agreed within about eight months.

The draft treaty was based on interim accords reached in December and on EU positions which Britain has yet to accept.

In particular, a protocol on how to avoid a disruptive “hard border” on the island of Ireland foresaw effectively keeping Northern Ireland within the EU structures and rules.

Barnier stressed that this was in line with a “backstop” agreed with Prime Minister Theresa May in December and could be superseded if Britain put forward a detailed alternative solution.

Northern Irish Unionists on whom May relies for her slim parliamentary majority criticised the proposal as it could create new divisions between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The draft treaty sees a joint EU-UK committee overseeing the arrangements but the European Court of Justice remaining the ultimate authority to resolve disputes.

Barnier said he would engage in a new round of negotiations next week and would also meet leaders of Northern Ireland early in the week. He stressed that there remain “significant divergences” in talks on whether Britain might get a transition period after it leaves the EU 13 months from now.

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