May and Davis hint at UK-wide ‘regulatory alignment’

Brexit secretary says Northern Ireland will not be left under separate regulatory regime

With the unravelling of an agreed form of wording on the Irish Border the deadline for phase one of the Brexit talks is looming ever closer. Cliff Taylor reports

 

Theresa May sought on Tuesday night to rescue a deal on Brexit by promising that any “regulatory alignment” with the European Union would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom and not just Northern Ireland. A day after she walked away from a deal that would have allowed Brexit talks to move on to the next stage, the prime minister faced universal hostility from MPs to any deal that would treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom

Brexit secretary David Davis told the House of Commons that it had never been his government’s intention to leave Northern Ireland bound by EU regulations while the rest of the UK plotted its own course.

“The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom. I reiterate: alignment isn’t harmonisation, it isn’t having exactly the same rules. It is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection, all of that sort of thing as well. And that is what we are aiming for,” he said.

Mr Davis’s promise to avoid leaving Northern Ireland under a separate regulatory regime won praise from Remainers and Brexiteers alike. But it appeared to contradict Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s understanding of the deal that was on offer on Monday.

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Three scenarios

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that the agreement envisaged three possible scenarios to ensure that the Border remained open, including an EU-UK free trade agreement that would allow free trade to continue between Britain and Ireland and a bespoke arrangement involving technology. If all else failed, there would be an ongoing regulatory alignment between the North and the South.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the wording of the document came as a big shock to her party when they finally saw it late on Monday morning.

Text is important, words are important, they really do matter. So when we finally see text, that is when we make the final decision

“When we looked at the wording and had seen the import of all that, we knew we couldn’t sign up to anything that was in that text that would allow a border to develop in the Irish Sea,” she told RTÉ.

The party’s leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, blamed the Irish Government and the European Union for the delay in seeing the plans and said his party would work with Ms May in the hope that it can support a revised draft.

“Text is important, words are important, they really do matter. So when we finally see text, that is when we make the final decision. Clearly the text that we were shown very late yesterday morning did not translate what we had been told in general conversations into reality because there was far too much ambiguity and didn’t actually nail down the issues that need to be nailed down,” he said.

The prime minister is expected to return to Brussels later this week to resume the talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker which she broke off on Monday.

Senior EU diplomats said on Tuesday that if Britain cannot come up with a satisfactory offer by Friday, it could be too late to reach agreement among EU leaders in time for next week’s summit.