- European Union calls for Northern Ireland to stay in its customs union and stick to single market rules after Brexit if a hard border cannot be avoided.
- The EU wants a “common regulatory area” on the island of Ireland which would keep Northern Ireland wedded to Brussels rules and regulations, a draft treaty published on Wednesday confirms.
- The ECJ should also have jurisdiction over Northern Ireland under the model, which has angered Brexiteers in Theresa May’s Conservative Party.
- The EU has “run out of patience” with the UK’s incoherent position, a well-placed source in Brussels told BI.
- Theresa May says she could never agree to the proposal.
- Labour calls on the “war of words” between UK government and EU to end.
LONDON – The European Union has formally called for Northern Ireland to remain within its customs union and stick to single market rules after Brexit if a hard Irish border cannot be avoided.
The text states that Northern Ireland should stay aligned to its rules and regulations as a “backstop” option, if Theresa May cannot come up with a way of avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, in a draft legal text of the withdrawal agreement published on Wednesday morning.
The 120-page treaty, which is subject to approval from the EU27, proposes a “common regulatory area” with “no internal barriers” on the island of Ireland which would allow frictionless trade to continue across the border.
The suggested “common regulatory area” is detailed in scope, covering customs, VAT, energy, agriculture and the environment among other areas. Under the EU’s proposal, it would be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which will rile Brexiteers both within May’s Cabinet and elsewhere in the Conservative Party.
The text states:
“This Protocol is based on the third scenario of maintaining full alignment with those rules of the Union’s internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement, and that it applies unless and until an alternative arrangement implementing another scenario is agreed.”
The treaty also calls for the ECJ to rule on any disputes that arise over the application and interpretation of the withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK government.
Prime Minister May rejected the proposal on Wednesday afternoon, telling the House of Commons “no UK prime minister could ever agree” to the idea.
“They [the Commission] know the political risks of this but have run out of patience waiting for coherent proposals from the UK,” a well-placed Brussels source told Business Insider.
Here are some key paragraphs from the text:
The text, which was briefed to Business Insider on Tuesday evening, does not explicitly call for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market if the UK government fails to come up with a workable solution, but lays out areas where it could stay fully aligned with single market rules in order to preserve the invisible border.
It makes clear that this course of action is the default option – or the “backstop” as its known in Brussels – and other solutions to avoiding a hard border remain available, such as a comprehensive UK-EU free trade agreement.
“This Protocol shall not apply or shall cease to apply, as the case may be, in whole or in part, from the date of entry into force of such subsequent agreement and in accordance with that agreement,” the text states.
Johnson privately told May that preventing a hard border should not be the main aim of the UK government.
Prime Minister May is reportedly preparing a “robust” fight-back against the EU’s proposal.
A senior Downing Street source told The Times: “We are fully committed to implementing the December agreement but the EU should be absolutely clear that the prime minister is not going to sign up to anything that threatens the constitutional integrity of the UK or its common market.”
Arlene Foster, who leads the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, described the proposal as “constitutionally unacceptable” and “economically catastrophic” for the country.
The EU’s “backstop” would effectively move the border to the Irish sea but the Foster-led DUP opposes any Brexit deal based on Northern Ireland remaining wedded to the EU and moving away from the rest of the UK.
The DUP very nearly scuppered the December agreement over concerns about regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
EU draft text is constitutionally unacceptable & would be economically catastrophic for Northern Ireland. I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment that HMG will not allow any new border in the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland must have unfettered access to GB market. AF
— Arlene Foster #We’llMeetAgain (@DUPleader) February 28, 2018
Former Brexit minister David Jones accused the EU of trying to “annex” Northern Ireland in an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday morning. “The EU are living in fantasy land if they think this is something we could ever accept,” he added.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, rejected claims that the EU was trying to provoke Britain with its proposals on Northern Ireland.
“I’m not trying to provoke. I’m not trying to create shockwaves. I want these negotiations to be a success,” he said in a press conference following the publication of the draft treaty.
— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) February 28, 2018
Labour’s Keir Starmer condemned May’s government for failing to offer a viable solution to the border dilemma.
“The EU-UK Government war of words needs to end,” the Shadow Brexit Secretary said.
“There can be absolutely no deviation from the solemn commitments made to Northern Ireland at the end of the first phase of Brexit negotiations. That means no hard border or any agreement that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement.”
“Theresa May’s failure to offer any viable solution to the border in Northern Ireland has come back to haunt her.”
He added: “And yet, 20 months since the referendum the Government has yet to set out how it can achieve this without the UK remaining in a customs union with the EU.
“Jeremy Corbyn was clear at the start of the week that Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.”
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