LONDON — Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May found little sympathy Friday from the European Union’s 27 other nations in her quest for more flexibility in Brexit talks, as the time to negotiate an amicable divorce between Britain and the EU dwindles down.
May’s government published a white paper last week with long-awaited proposals for Britain’s relations with the EU after it leaves the bloc, seeking to keep it in a free market for goods with the EU while having a more distant relationship for services.
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EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday listed many potential problems with the white paper, saying there can be no cherry picking when it comes to the single market where all trade comes under the same rule book.
“There are some elements which do seem to contradict the guidelines of the EU,” said Barnier, insisting that the bloc will not waver on essential principles like the unity of the single market.
May used a speech Friday in Northern Ireland to urge EU negotiators to be more open-minded on how to solve the Irish border issue, a key sticking point in talks on Britain’s exit from the bloc, which is expected in March.
She is vehemently opposed to any proposal that would keep Northern Ireland inside a customs union with the EU while the rest of the U.K. leaves. She said no prime minister could accept an arrangement that threatened the unity of the United Kingdom and imposed a sea border between Northern Ireland and the U.K.
Barnier underscored the importance of settling the Irish border, saying “we cannot afford to lose time on this issue and this is why we have invited the U.K. to work” on the issue next week.