Theresa May is ready to reject the EU's Brexit divorce deal over Irish border demands

Michele Tantussi / Getty
  • Theresa May is preparing for a “robust” fight-back against the EU’s insistence that Ireland could legally be forced to remain in a customs union after Brexit.
  • Business Insider reported yesterday that a draft Withdrawal Bill published today will include a legal commitment to prevent a hard border in Ireland.
  • Downing Street is reportedly ready to reject the deal.

LONDON – Theresa May is preparing for a “robust” fight-back against the EU’s insistence that Ireland could legally be forced to remain in a customs union after Brexit, as senior Brexiteers reacted with fury to the proposals.

The EU will today publish a draft withdrawal agreement which would enshrine the terms of Britain’s Brexit divorce deal into law.

Business Insider reported yesterday that the document will include a legal commitment to prevent a hard border in Ireland, including a “fall-back” option which keeps Northern Ireland in the customs union even if the rest of the country leaves.

A senior source close to Downing Street told the Times that the demands would be rejected. “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.”

The government will reportedly also reject the proposal that the European Court of Justice should be able to enforce the agreement.

“This is a draft negotiating position by the EU and not – as some would like you to believe – a final, binding text,” the source added.

The December accord struck between EU and UK negotiators on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal included a “guarantee” from the UK to avoid a hard border in Ireland, including a provision to maintain regulatory alignment and avoid border checks on the island whatever the outcome of the Brexit deal.

The EU’s approach leaves the prime minister in a difficult position. She has committed to leaving the EU customs union, but that approach would mean border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Senior Brexiteers reacted with fury to the perceived intrusion on internal UK matters. Former Brexit minister David Jones accusing the EU of trying to “annex” Northern Ireland on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, describing the proposals as “completely unacceptable.”

The proposals sparked fury among the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Irish party which props up May’s minority government in parliament. The pro-Unionist party is opposed to any deal which would split Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

“This fundamentally breaches the understanding reached in December and would undermine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland in the Belfast Agreement,” Pro-Brexit DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Belfast Telegraph.

“If the EU or Dublin believes the UK Government will be signing up to a border in the Irish Sea, they are deluded.”

The news also came after a document leaked to Sky News showed that Boris Johnson had raised the prospect of introducing a hard border in Ireland. He suggested the government’s task was not to maintain “no border” in Ireland, but to prevent it from becoming “significantly harder.”

In November last year, Johnson insisted to MPs that “there can be no return to a hard border.”

“That would be unthinkable. It would be economic and political madness,” he said.

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