BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union on Wednesday laid out how it might regulate Northern Ireland’s commerce if no higher answer was found within the fast-closing window earlier than Britain’s departure from the EU, prompting livid reactions in London and Belfast.
Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier, presenting the EU’s draft of an exit treaty for Britain, denied that the proposal, supposed to keep away from a disruptive EU-UK “hard border” on the island of Ireland, would loosen Northern Ireland’s constitutional ties to the remainder of the United Kingdom.
But British chief Theresa May advised her parliament that no prime minister might ever agree to those phrases as they’d “threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK”.
The hardline Democratic Unionist (DUP) allies in Belfast on whom she depends for a slim majority denounced the EU draft as “constitutionally unacceptable” and “economically catastrophic” as it might distance Northern Ireland from mainland Britain.
Establishing a “common regulatory area” with Ireland and 26 different EU states, because the draft treaty proposes, would in impact preserve the British province in a customs union with the bloc.
“Northern Ireland shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union,” learn the draft, which some diplomats characterised as a transparent bid by Brussels to grab the initiative and drive negotiations ahead on its phrases.
Barnier stated Britons shouldn’t be shocked by a textual content that merely translated an interim accord with London into authorized language.
And he stated the border proposal was solely a “backstop” answer, which may very well be modified if Britain provided alternate options alongside the strains of these it hinted at throughout talks in December.
NORTHERN IRELAND PEACE SETTLEMENT
Britain’s vote to go away the EU has undermined one of many pillars of a 1998 settlement that ended a long time of violence in Northern Ireland between largely Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestant unionists favouring continued union with Britain.
In Dublin, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney echoed Barnier, saying the draft was “absolutely faithful” to the December accord and “should not be a surprise to anybody”. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar stated it was as much as May and the DUP to come up with their very own options if they didn’t prefer it.
Barnier rammed home that “time is short” earlier than Britain can be out of the EU in precisely 13 months. He referred to as on May to “pick up the pace” of negotiations so withdrawal treaty, together with phrases for conserving the established order throughout a two-year transition, may very well be agreed this autumn and ratified by March.
As the rhetoric on each side has taken a extra irritable flip, and negotiations have stalled because the interim accords in December, Barnier stated he was “preparing for every situation” in case Britain, the continent’s second-biggest economic system, lurches out of the Union and not using a deal after 46 years.
One EU diplomat stated Barnier and his workforce had “switched gear into attack mode” and had agreed with Dublin on a tactic to push Britain on from December’s fudge on the Irish border. Britain desires the border difficulty settled as a part of an general EU-UK commerce deal which Brussels will solely begin discussing with it in April.
May, who will lay out her imaginative and prescient for the long run buying and selling relationship with the EU on Friday, stated she would work to guard UK unity within the negotiations. She once more dominated out an EU-UK customs union – one thing that her Labour opponents advocate as a option to keep away from disruptive controls on the Irish land border.
“Overall the work has been progressing well in recent weeks,” her spokesman stated. “This is just a draft document … and we will be having discussions where we don’t agree in the coming months.”
Unionists concern new obstacles with the British mainland might improve the probabilities of Ireland, which broke from British rule a century in the past, absorbing Northern Ireland, most of whose 1.eight million individuals are entitled to Irish, and therefore EU, citizenship.
Barnier conceded there is likely to be new checks on commerce between Northern Ireland and the mainland – however positively no “border”.
“NO ARROGANCE HERE”
The Democratic Unionist Party’s Nigel Dodds, nonetheless, stated Barnier’s “ludicrous” plan “will not go anywhere”.
Barnier dismissed options that the draft was an try to “shock” Britons into concluding a deal, insisting that his sole objective was to keep away from a disorderly divorce. “There is no arrogance here,” he stated.
The draft treaty sees a joint EU-British committee overseeing the preparations however the European Court of Justice remaining the final word authority to resolve disputes.
Asked why the draft made no point out of a bit in December’s EU-UK joint report that there ought to be no regulatory divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Barnier stated it was as a result of that was an inside British matter.
He restated his view that the proposals for future commerce that May is predicted to make on Friday – to take care of a mix of widespread and completely different laws with the EU – weren’t acceptable. “There will be no cherry-picking,” he stated.
Barnier stated he would interact in a brand new spherical of negotiations subsequent week and would additionally meet leaders of Northern Ireland.
He additionally stated “significant divergences” remained in talks on a transition interval, and so a deal, which each side hope to clinch in March to calm business nerves, was “not a given”.
Supporters of Brexit argue that Britain will profit from now not being certain by EU guidelines and may do extra commerce with the remainder of the world, whereas opponents say the prospect of recent obstacles to commerce in Europe is already damaging its economic system.
May’s government bought a lift on Wednesday when Japanese carmaker Toyota confirmed plans to construct a brand new mannequin in England.
Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Jan Strupczewski, Robert-Jan Bartunek, Robin Emmott and Samantha Koester in Brussels, William James and Elizabeth Piper in London and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Mark Heinrich