European Commission pours cold water on UK’s Brexit paper on North

Commission says trade issues will be dealt with in second phase of Brexit talks

Britain’s secretary of state for exiting the EU, David Davis, and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Talks between the UK and the commission are due to resume on September 28th. Photograph: Reuters

Britain’s secretary of state for exiting the EU, David Davis, and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Talks between the UK and the commission are due to resume on September 28th. Photograph: Reuters

 

The European Commission has poured cold water on the UK’s Brexit negotiating paper on Northern Ireland by reminding it that, in the words of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, “frictionless trade is not possible outside the single market and customs union”.

The idea of leaving both the single market and customs union but of maintaining an “infrastructure-free” Border at Newry was a central thrust of the UK paper published on Wednesday, but it remains in the eyes of both Irish and EU officials an unrealistic expectation.

In its brief response to the British paper, a spokesman for the commission said that such trade issues would only be a matter for the second phase of negotiations once “sufficient progress” had been made on the withdrawal issues in the ongoing phase-one discussions.

Talks between the UK and the commission are due to resume on September 28th.

Responding to the paper’s expressed hope that political agreement on a frictionless Border and an agreement on a transition period after Brexit could be reached in phase one, the spokesman said that “on customs, we take note of the UK’s request for an implementing period and its preferences as regards the future relationship, but we will only address them once we have made sufficient progress on the terms of the orderly withdrawal”.

The UK has reportedly been hoping to accelerate the opening of talks on trade and the future relationship with the EU, and in raising the issue in the Northern Ireland paper, even as a principle, might be seen as what one diplomat suggested was chancing their arm.

‘Clock is ticking’

In the spirit of Mr Barnier’s “clock is ticking” comments, the commission spokesman welcomed the publication of the paper as a “positive step”.

However, he noted that the UK papers (on customs and Northern Ireland and a couple of earlier ones) “are a first response to the series of nine papers which the EU published before the summer” ranging from citizens’ rights, to Euratom, governance, and judicial and police co-operation.

“The EU is working on another series of position papers, including one on customs issues related to the orderly withdrawal of the UK, and one on Ireland, amongst others,” the spokesman said.

“We will now carefully study the two papers in light of the European Council guidelines and the council’s negotiating directives.

“On Ireland, we would reiterate what Michel Barnier has said before: we must discuss how to maintain the Common Travel Area and protect, in all its dimensions, the Good Friday agreement, of which the United Kingdom is a co-guarantor. It is essential that we have a political discussion on this, before looking at technical solutions.”