- The EU is ready to “force” Theresa May to commit legally to an agreement which keeps Ireland in the customs union after Brexit, MEP Philippe Lamberts told Business Insider.
- Lamberts sits on the Brexit Steering Group which meets regularly with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.
- The EU Commission today published a draft Withdrawal Bill which could legally commit the UK to keep Ireland in the customs union.
- “I see the whole process in the UK as a slow and painful process of coming to terms with reality. It’s not really a negotiation. You don’t negotiate with reality,” Lamberts said.
LONDON – The EU believes it can “force” Theresa May to commit legally to an agreement which will keep Ireland aligned with the customs union after Brexit, an MEP who sits on the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group has told Business Insider.
“I see the whole process in the UK as a slow and painful process of coming to terms with reality. It’s not really a negotiation. You don’t negotiate with reality,” Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts told Business Insider.
The EU Commission today published a draft Withdrawal Bill which would legally commit the UK to keep Ireland in the customs union if the UK cannot propose an alternative solution which avoids a hard border between north and south Ireland.
The proposals have caused outrage and surprise among Conservatives and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), despite similar provisions being outlined in the draft agreement reached in December between UK and EU negotiators.
“The proposal in the draft withdrawal agreement is the backstop that the United Kingdom government committed to in December,” Lamberts told BI ahead of the document’s publication.
“That is the firm commitment the British government took. Commentators […] said in December that the joint declaration was a fudge on Ireland. It was not a fudge. It was a very explicit commitment. Indeed, we intend to force the British government to make good on that commitment, and that is to accept a legally binding version of it.”
The EU’s position leaves May in a very difficult position because she has committed to avoiding a hard border in Ireland, but also pledged to leave the customs union, which would necessitate border checks between the north and south of Ireland.
“We have to show to the British government its contradictions”
Lamberts said the draft Withdrawal Bill was designed to expose the “contradictions” within the UK’s position.
“We have to show to the British government its contradictions and that is the purpose of the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said.
“I know that there’s a lot of frustration in the UK towards these inflexible, revengeful Europeans.
“Actually, the thing the British government is bumping into regularly is not our resolve. It is just the resolve of reality.
I see the whole process in the UK as a slow and painful process of coming to terms with reality.
“The Good Friday agreement is part of reality. That limits the options of the British government, but that’s life,” he said.
The EU’s position has outraged Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose leader Arlene Foster said the deal would be “constitutionally unacceptable” and “economically catastrophic for Northern Ireland” because it would mean a new border emerged between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and mean the two countries ran different regulatory systems.
However, Lamberts insisted the solution to that problem was “an internal UK matter.”
“The commitment that Theresa May takes towards the DUP to avoid any legislative divergence within the United Kingdom is an internal UK matter, and has no place in a treaty on the withdrawal or on the future relationship,” he said.
“I understand that there are internal politics going on in the UK, but that is none of our business and we will not intrude into that.
“But we do demand – and it’s a demand – that the United Kingdom commits to keep the Good Friday agreement flying, and that has consequences,” he added.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.