Britain must “translate speeches into treaties” and come up with a detailed plan for its post-Brexit ties with the EU, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday.
EU leaders have been pressing British Prime Minister Theresa May to clarify what she wants before they agree their position on the future economic partnership at a summit later this month.
A series of speeches by May have done little to satisfy Brussels, and Juncker warned it was particularly crucial for London to clarify its plans for the sensitive issue of the Irish border.
Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg ahead of a summit in Brussels next week, Juncker made a direct plea to the British leader for more detail.
“Prime Minister May, give us some more clarity on how the UK sees its future relation with the European Union,” he said.
“As the clock counts down with one year to go, it is now time to translate speeches into treaties, to turn commitments into agreements, broad suggestions and wishes on the future relationship into specific workable solutions.”
He said it was “especially important” that Britain comes up with concrete proposals for the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is staying in the EU.
Both Britain and the EU have vowed to avoid the return of customs checks to the border and an interim deal in December left some flexibility on the issue, but an EU text putting the agreement into law has sparked a fresh row with London.
The draft EU text published last month says Northern Ireland must stay in a customs union with the rest of the bloc if no better way is found to avoid a hard Irish border — which Britain rejects.
Juncker told MEPs the draft text simply translated the December accord into legal language and “should not come as a shock”.
And the former Luxembourg PM warned London the EU institutions and member states stood squarely in support of Ireland on the issue.
“For us this is not an Irish issue, it is a European issue. It is all for one and one for all — that is what it means to be part of this union,” he said.
Britain hopes to begin talks on the future trading relationship with Brussels next month, and May set out her proposals for a new wide-ranging free trade agreement in a speech on March 2.
But EU Council President Donald Tusk warned last week that the Irish border issue must be solved before negotiations can move on to other issues.