There are three areas on which the EU insists that the Brexit negotiations must make progress on, before proper trade talks can start: the so-called divorce bill, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the Irish border. Today, the Irish PM said that no progress had been made on this issue, that the Brexiteers had had 14 months to devise a plan and hadn’t come up with anything adequate.
Implicit in the Taoiseach’s speech is a threat to block the start of trade talks this autumn. If Dublin doesn’t think any progress had been made on the border question, the European Commission is highly unlikely to recommend to the Council that the EU moves on to the next stage of the negotiations.
Now, obviously, it would be far simpler for the Irish if the UK stayed in the customs union, at the very least. But that isn’t going to happen. (If the UK can’t negotiate its own trade deals after Brexit, then what was the point of leaving?). So, there is going to have to be some pragmatic agreement found. Most likely this will involve a comprehensive customs agreement between the UK and the EU that stops short of being a full customs union. But the question now is, how long will Dublin keep up this hard-line stance and will it delay the start of trade talks?