Ministers are to publish a new series of detailed papers setting out their aims for the Brexit talks amid criticism about a lack of clarity over the Government’s negotiating position.
The papers, to be published from this week, will include one covering the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after the UK has left the EU.
A second batch of papers, to be released in the run-up to the October meeting of the European Council in Brussels, will look at “future partnership” arrangements, including the UK’s proposals for a new customs agreement with the EU.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said the publication of the papers would mark “an important next step” towards delivering last year’s referendum vote to leave the EU.
The disclosure comes as Mr Davis prepares to embark on a third round of talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in the Belgian capital at the end of August.
Mr Barnier is reported to have warned EU ambassadors the first two rounds had failed to produce sufficient clarity on the opening issues of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and Britain’s “divorce bill”.
His gloomy assessment cast doubt on whether the talks will have made enough progress to begin discussions in the autumn on a new free trade deal between Britain and the EU.
Ireland’s premier Leo Varadkar meanwhile has expressed his frustration at the failure so far of the UK Government to come up with firm proposals to ensure that there is no return to the “hard” border between the North and the Republic.
On his first official visit to Northern Ireland earlier this month, the Taoiseach even put forward his own suggestions for a “soft Brexit” – including the possibility of creating a new EU-UK customs union.
Sources at the Department for Exiting the EU said the “future partnership” papers would show that the Government is ready to move on to the next stage of the negotiations.
They insisted the issues of Britain’s withdrawal – which include the divorce bill the UK will have to pay in respect of its outstanding liabilities – remained “inextricably linked” with the talks on its future relations with the bloc.
Mr Davis said: “Over the last year, the Government has been working with British businesses and the British people to establish exactly how our new relationship with the EU should look and feel.
“I’ve launched this process because with time of the essence, we need to get on with negotiating the bigger issues around our future partnership to ensure we get a deal that delivers a strong UK and a strong EU.
“It’s what businesses across Europe have called on both sides to do and will demonstrate that the UK is ready for the job.
As well the issue of the Irish border, the first set of new position papers will also cover continued availability of goods for the EU and the UK, and confidentiality and access to official documents following the UK’s withdrawal.