EU's Tusk warns Brexit talks cannot advance without Irish deal

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London (AFP)

EU Council President Donald Tusk warned Thursday that the problems of the Irish border must be resolved before talks on Brexit proceed further with Britain.

"If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first," Tusk said after talks with Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin.

Both Britain and the EU have vowed to avoid the return of customs checks to the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and EU member Ireland after Brexit.

They reached an interim deal in December which fudged the issue, but a draft text drawn up by Brussels putting the agreement into law has sparked a fresh row with London.

Britain intends to leave the EU's single market and customs union, which suggests the need for customs checks somewhere -- but Britain will not accept a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

"While we must respect this position, we also expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border," Tusk said.

"As long as the UK doesn't present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations."

Britain hopes to begin talks on the future trading relationship with Brussels next month.