Britain must honour border agreement prior to future deal, says EU
Draft guidelines for post-Brexit trade deal will stress importance of avoiding a hard border
European Council president Donald Tusk will circulate the draft document to the remaining 27 EU member states before meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Thursday. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
The importance of the UK government honouring the agreement to avoid a hard border is expected to be stressed again with the release of the EU’s draft guidelines for a post-Brexit trade deal on Wednesday.
The guidelines, to be circulated to EU member states by European Council president Donald Tusk, will tie the UK government to the agreement guaranteeing no hard border in Ireland before a deal can be reached on future EU-UK relations after Brexit.
Mr Tusk will present the draft guidelines to the remaining 27 EU member states on Wednesday before travelling to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Thursday.
EU sources said the guidelines would encourage the UK to engage fully to finalise the withdrawal treaty, despite rejecting last week’s draft from Brussels that put the December agreement into a legal text.
The guidelines will require an agreement to be reached on a withdrawal treaty before the EU would be willing to agree terms on a future relationship.
The text, which will set out a roadmap for the phase of negotiations around post-Brexit relations, is likely to illustrate how far apart London and Brussels are from reaching an agreement.
The EU is expected to repeat again that if the UK refuses to step back from its stated intention to leave the EU single market and customs union, then the only option would be a free-trade agreement, similar to the deal reached with Canada, though potentially with a wider scope.
This would scupper the UK government’s plan to cherry-pick the parts of the EU single market it likes for closer association such as medicines, chemicals and aviation, but reject obligations linked to other areas such as the authority of the European Court of Justice and the free movement of people.
While the guidelines will not include any new or substantive measures concerning Ireland or the Irish Border, the EU is expected to stress the importance of the UK providing more detailed proposals about its intentions for the Border in commentary around the publication of the guidelines.
Meanwhile, Irish officials have rejected suggestions from pro-Brexit MPs that a report carried out for the European Parliament last November suggests technological solutions can overcome a hard border.
The report, “Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland”, was written by a former Swedish customs official, Lars Karlsson, and compares the US-Canadian and Norwegian-Swedish borders and how technological solutions might apply to the Irish Border.
Labour MP Kate Hoey, who is pro-Brexit, referred to the report in a question to British prime minister Theresa May in the House of Commons. Ms May said that she would have her officials read the report.
Irish officials have said that the report details a huge amount of surveillance and physical infrastructure that would be required at the Border, does not address sanitary standards and regulations that would be essential for north-south trade, and overlooks the fact that the Norway-Sweden border is not frictionless.