EU to propose North stays under customs union rules

Draft EU-UK withdrawal treaty likely to be rejected by Brexiteers and DUP

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson:  has told Theresa May it was wrong to see the government’s task as “maintaining no border” on the island of Ireland after Brexit. Photograph: Alex Burstow/Getty Images

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson: has told Theresa May it was wrong to see the government’s task as “maintaining no border” on the island of Ireland after Brexit. Photograph: Alex Burstow/Getty Images

 

Northern Ireland will effectively remain in the EU customs union and adhere to single market rules to avoid a hard border post-Brexit if no deal or alternative plan is agreed, the EU will propose on Wednesday.

The draft withdrawal treaty between the EU and the UK, to be published in Brussels on Wednesday, will propose that joint EU-UK customs checks could inspect goods coming into the island of Ireland from Britain, EU sources say.

However, the proposals are likely to be rejected by Brexiteers in the British government and by the DUP.

If the EU or Dublin believes the UK government will be signing up to a border in the Irish Sea, they are deluded. Taoiseach knows that

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has told prime minister Theresa May that it was wrong to see the British government’s task as “maintaining no border” on the island of Ireland after Brexit, but that the British government’s task should be to “stop this border becoming significantly harder”. His views were contained in a letter leaked in London on Tuesday night.

And the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson warned the EU proposals would undermine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

“If the EU or Dublin believes the UK government will be signing up to a border in the Irish Sea, they are deluded. Taoiseach knows that,” Mr Donaldson tweeted.

Legal copperfastening

The text of the EU draft, which will serve as a basis for negotiations with the British government in the coming weeks, opens the door for the UK to propose solutions to the Irish Border problem, in line with the political agreement of last December. If adopted in its current form, it would legally copperfasten the British guarantees that there will be no hard border in the future, even if there is no agreement between the EU and the UK.

Text of the draft agreement, seen by The Irish Times, makes reference to EU rules supporting North-South co-operation, the economy of the island and safeguards within the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

“Discussions on the other scenarios may continue to be pursued in parallel, but this protocol is based on the third scenario of maintaining full alignment with those rules of the union’s internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 agreement,” the text states.

Single regulatory space

The draft agreement will stress the importance of maintaining a single regulatory space on the island of Ireland, EU sources said. This will essentially mean a customs union and parts of the single market which affect free movement of goods, services and people applying to Northern Ireland to maintain an open border.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has signalled that the efforts by the two governments to facilitate a return to powersharing in the North are likely to take a backseat during the upcoming intensive period of Brexit negotiations.

“We cannot automatically assume it will be acceptable to the United Kingdom or to all the parties in Northern Ireland. We could have an interesting few weeks ahead of us,” he said.

The two governments have asked the northern parties to “pause for reflection”, Leo Varadkar said. “We think that is advisable at this stage . . . It will be a very intense couple of weeks with regard to Brexit so perhaps it is a good time for the parties in the North to pause for reflection.”