Regulatory alignment could apply to whole of UK, Davis suggests

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator says 'anything agreed for North applies to whole country'

Britain wants any future “regulatory alignment” for Northern Ireland to apply to the whole of the UK after Brexit, chief British negotiator David Davis has said. Video: Parliamentlive.tv

 

Britain wants any future “regulatory alignment” for Northern Ireland to apply to the whole of the UK after Brexit, chief British negotiator David Davis said on Tuesday.

“Regulatory alignment is not harmonisation: it’s a question of ensuring similar outcomes in areas where you want to have trade relationships and free and frictionless trade,” Mr Davis told parliament.

“And anything we agree for Northern Ireland in this respect, if we get our free trade area, will apply to the whole country,” Mr Davis said.

Mr Davis said Britain was waiting to agree on an implementation period as soon as possible in the new year. He declined to comment on the cost of Brexit bill but said Britain and the EU are pretty close to alignment.

Mr Davis’s comments come as British prime minister convened her cabinet to explain how a deal put forward on Monday had been blocked by the DUP, which rejected the possibility of “regulatory alignment” for Northern Ireland with the EU after Brexit.

The DUP holds a veto in the negotiations because Mrs May needs its 10 MPs in Westminster to have a parliamentary majority.

Holding an impromptu press conference outside Parliament, Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, accused the Irish Government of “flexing their muscles” in a reckless and dangerous way over the Border.

He said his party was shown the text of a deal between the UK and the EU too late, adding that the wording was too ambiguous.

“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 need to be nailed down,” he said.

A sensible Brexit would mean the UK leaving “as one nation” with a soft Border with Ireland, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mrs May is expected to discuss how to move the issue forward with Arlene Foster, head of the DUP, and with Michelle O’Neill leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.

She is hoping to resume talks with the European Commission later on Wednesday, her spokesperson said, in an attempt to push the deal over the line ahead of a European Council meeting on December 14th to 15th.

“The prime minister believes the cabinet are fully behind her, we want to make progress and move forward to the next stage of the talks.”

“The show is now in London,” said a European Commission spokesperson, who added that while the EU had reached a common understanding with Britain on most aspects of the country’s divorce from the bloc, some topics required further consultation and negotiation.

In a sign that the dispute over Northern Ireland could presage a broader debate over the UK’s Brexit plans, Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour party’s Brexit spokesperson, called on the government to put the options of staying in the EU customs union and single market “back on the table”.

Labour does not advocate the UK remaining in beyond the two-year transition period but has urged the government not to rule out the idea.

Mrs May’s allies believe Mrs Foster may have rejected the proposed deal covering the north-south Border in Ireland after details of the agreement were leaked from Dublin on Monday morning.

They said the “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic proposed by Mrs May in Brussels is only a fallback position in the event that Britain and the EU are unable to agree a trade deal.

David Davis, Brexit secretary, told the House of Commons all sides of the negotiation “remain confident of reaching a positive conclusion in the course of the week”.

Mr Starmer replied the DUP veto was evidence that Mrs May presided over “a coalition of chaos”.

Conservative eurosceptics including Owen Paterson, former Northern Ireland secretary, said that “no deal is better than a bad deal” if there was any suggestion that the province could be economically or politically detached from the rest of the UK.

Mr Davis said: “I have already confirmed that the integrity of the United Kingdom comes first.”

A number of pro-Europeans from Conservative and Labour benches said the answer to the Ireland border question was for Britain to stay in the single market and customs union - a course ruled out by Mrs May.

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, added to the pressure on Mrs May with a warning against special treatment for Northern Ireland.

Ms Davidson, who has in the past argued that the UK should remain in the single market, said any “regulatory alignment” should be extended to the whole of the UK and that voters did not want the country to be “divided by different deals for different home nations”. - Reuters / Financial Times